Statistics indicate that Guyana is one of the most lightly populated countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The World Bank estimated that there were four people per square kilometer in Guyana in 1988, far fewer than the average of twenty people per square kilometer for all of Latin America. However, more than 90 percent of Guyana's population lived along the coast, on a strip constituting only 5 percent of the country's total land area. A more useful figure is the population density per square kilometer of agricultural land, which was estimated at forty-six in 1988. In Latin America as a whole, the average population density on agricultural land was fifty-five per square kilometer.
More than 70 percent of Guyana's coastal population is rural, living on plantations or in villages strung along the coastal road. The villages range in size from several hundred to several thousand inhabitants. The layout of the villages is dictated by the drainage and irrigation systems of the plantations, both active and abandoned. The villages are most heavily concentrated along the estuary of the Demerara River and the eastern environs of Georgetown, near the mouth of the Berbice River close to New Amsterdam, and along the extreme east coast near the Courantyne River.
The pattern of population distribution in Guyana is a product of nineteenth-century economic development, which was based on the cultivation of sugarcane. Because the swampy coast was fertile and sugar production was geared to export, the large sugar estates confined their operations to a narrow coastal strip. Most of the villages had ethnically diverse populations, but usually one ethnic group predominated. The urban population was predominantly African, but it would be misleading to suggest that all Afro-Guyanese were urban. Indeed, the majority of the Afro-Guyanese population was rural. A far greater majority of Indo-Guyanese, however, lived outside the cities. The interior of the country was left mainly to the Amerindians. Even the later exploitation of timber, bauxite, and manganese in the interior failed to effect any sizeable migration.
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