Population games

6 January 2013

Who wins the density prize?

The myth that Gaza is (one of the) the most densely populated places in the world refuses to die†. Perhaps its their refusal to come to terms with Israel that provides the evidence that they are dense?

Moving the goalposts

We were once told, and still frequently are told, that Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Sometimes, we are told that it IS the most densely populated place in the world. A laughable claim‡. That honour goes to the pressure cooker we call Macau (19,610 people per km2) with world trouble spot Monaco (17,676 people per km2) taking second place. Gaza with 4,750 people per km2 is an also-ran. Put another way, the population in Macau is four times denser than Gaza. It appears higher on the list because of a very flexible definition of what is a place. Including only sovereign states and dependent territories excludes literally hundreds of cities with higher population density. As frequently pointed out Gaza has approximately the same area and population and therefore density as urban battleground Montreal.

The more savvy Israel Haters are prepared to move the goalposts on the most dense claim. It’s not the Gaza Strip , they say. It’s Gaza City that is the most densely populated place in the world. A population of 449,221 is crammed into an area of 45 km2 giving a density of 9,983 persons per km2. How does this measure up?

Not all that well, it seems. It’s high but doesn’t come close to Manila in the Philippines with 43,079 persons per km2. It doesn’t even make it into the top fifty. FYI According to Wikipedia’s List of cities proper by population density Malé in the Maldives with 17,884 persons per km2 takes the 49th place. Do you see a pattern appearing? How low can a place be on the list and still claim to be one of the leaders?

This leaves the final goalpost migration. It is Jabaliya* refugee camp, they say, that takes the record of most dense place. My inclination was to say: so what? There’s an 1.4 km² area in Gaza that is really, really dense – big deal. It’s really difficult to find a list of dense places that are part of a city. Then I came across these lists.

List of city districts by population density

Wikipedia to the rescue – again

This is a list of the most densely populated country subdivisions (30,000+ inhabitants per km²) in the world. Most are districts of large cities and may vary significantly in regional importance. It may not be the most up to date list but it does put Jabaliya’s one of the most densely populated claims firmly in its place. In 21st place! Mathare North in Nairobi, Kenya has almost twice the population density of  Jabalya.

Subdivision City Country Inhabitants per km² Population Area (km²)
1. Mathare North Nairobi Kenya 119,055 55,158 0.46
2. Marine Lines Mumbai India 114,001 202,922 1.8
3. St. Anthony Parish Macau China 111,636 122,800 1.1
4. Anjana Surat India 110,875 4,435 0.04
5. Karanj Surat India 107,288 198,482 1.85
6. Dhaka Kotwali Thana Dhaka Bangladesh 101,693 210,504 2.07
7. Mlango Kubwa Nairobi Kenya 93,005 38,374 0.41
8. Gopipura Surat India 87,773 19,310 0.22
9. Mathare 4A Nairobi Kenya 87,209 18,776 0.22
10. Gatwikira Nairobi Kenya 85,323 24,991 0.29

— and in the middle of the pack —

Subdivision City Country Inhabitants per km² Population Area (km²)
21. Jabaliya Camp Gaza Strip Palestinian Territory 66,754 93,455 1.4

The top 10 most ‘crowded’ suburbs across Australia

Didn’t someone say Australia has the worlds least population density?

Suburb Local Govt Area Persons per km2
1. Elizabeth Bay Sydney 20,165
2. Rushcutters Bay Sydney 15,221
3. Wentworth Point Auburn 12,869
4. Ultimo Sydney 12,734
5. Pyrmont Sydney 12,458
6. Darlinghurst Sydney 11,651
7. Milsons Point North Sydney 11,701
8. Surry Hills Sydney 11,651
9. Bondi Waverly 11,162
10. Potts Point Sydney 11,128

In case you have forgotten:

  • Gaza Population Density 4,750 people per km2
  • Gaza City Population Density  9,983 persons per km2

Jewish Trivia

Any Aussies reading this? Six out of the ten (6/10) places on the greatest population density list have a Jewish connection. Either like Bondi, they have a significant Jewish population or like Darlinghurst, house the offices of Jewish organisations. And the moral is …?

Consider reading

The Million Person Gap: The Arab Population in the West Bank and GazaBennett Zimmerman, Roberta Seid and Michael L. Wise, THE BEGIN-SADAT CENTER FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES, BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY, Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 65, February 2006. The authors believe that Palestinian population figures have been exaggerated by as many as a million. Inclusion of non-residents in the count; inclusion of Jerusalem Arabs in West Bank figures and an unexplained increase over ICBS†† records all contribute to the suspicion that any population statistics need to be taken with a kilo of salt.


† For previous attempts to explode the myth read Just dense and All wet in Gaza
‡  Wherever possible we use official figures. There is a great deal of guesstimate in this for many places. We don’t take into account the distinct possibility that Gaza population figures are absurdly  exaggerated, which, of course, pushes Gaza further down the list if correct.
* AKA Jabalia
†† Israel Central Bureau of Statistics

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About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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