POPULATION DENSITY AND DISTRIBUION
The settlement and urbanization of the Orontes River basin has been organized since ancient times around water resources that have seen developments early on. The basin includes a large number of archeological sites. From the south to the north, the main sites are ; the city of Baalbek (Heliopolis) and the Neolithic site of Laboue in Lebanon, the cities of Kadesh (Tall Nabi Mindu), Emese (Homs), Qatna (Al Mashrafah), Arethusa (Ar Rastan), Epiphany (Hama), Nasriyah (city of the Bronze Age now abandoned), Larissa (Muhradah) , Apamea (Qalaat al Mudiq) in Syria and Antioch (Antakya), in Turkey, capital of the Roman province of Syria. These ancient cities have been occupied continuously since their establishment with the exception of Nasriyah.
In 2011 the total population of the Orontes basin was close to 6 million inhabitants divided among Lebanon (380,000 Hab., 6%), Syria (4.20 million, 69%) and Turkey (1.48 million, 24%). The average population density is 215 inhabitants per km ² with a large heterogeneity in the distribution of the population over the territory. The majority of this population is currently concentrated in Syria, in the two main urban centers of Homs and Hama in the center of the basin. The population density is the lowest in the arid and mountainous zones in the south and east of the basin with less than 50 inhabitants per km².
In the Lebanese section of the Orontes basin, the population density and rate of urbanization are the lowest of the country. Baalbek is the first city of the northern Beqaa area with nearly 35,000 inhabitants. It is followed by Hermel with 12,000 inhabitants and the towns of Ras Baalbek, Laboue et al Ain, Qaa and Aarsal whose population is between 2,000 and 5,000 inhabitants. The habitation of all these towns is related to the presence of springs.
The Orontes basin in Syria is one of the most densely populated regions of the country with the highest regional urbanization rate. In continuation of the northern Bekaa, the population density increases sharply in the border district of Al Qusayr. This is explained by the fact that the boundary was drawn along the irrigation canals watering the downstream plains of Al Qusayr and Tall An Nabi Mindu. Further south, the basin includes large agricultural resources and industrial plants.
In Syria, the urbanization rate for the Orontes River basin is 53%. A quarter of the basin’s population leaves in the two cities of Homs and Hama, with 700,000 and 350,000 inhabitants respectively in 2010. Half of the urban population leaves in medium size cities such as Salamiyah (70,000 Hab.), Jisr ash Shughur (43,000 hab.) Masyaf (25,000 Hab.) And Muhradah (18,000 Hab.), Yabrud (25,891 Hab.), An Nabk (32,548 Hab.), in the south and Afrin (36,562 Hab.) in the north.
The Orontes River basin has experienced strong population growth, particularly in Syria, since the 1950s. In addition to a high birth rate, the population growth has been fueled by migrants attracted by the large hydro-agricultural development projects undertaken in the region such as the Al Ghab irrigation scheme. Migration flows took place in two main waves: first, migrants settled in rural areas until the late 1960s and second, rural-urban migration within the basin increased sharply in the 1980s.
The agricultural development policy implemented after the coming to power of the Ba’ath Party strongly reduced the rural exodus in the 1960s and 1970s. Later, the education policy favored the migration of young people, who were attracted by jobs in the public services, to the administrative centers in particular Homs and Damascus. The rural-urban migration has accelerated since the1990s as a result of the agricultural economic crisis. Prior to the conflict, the Orontes basin was one of the most severely crisis-affected areas in the country.
Between the last two population censuses of 1994 and 2004 the annual growth rate was of 3% for the Syrian section of the Orontes basin, substantially higher than the national average of 2.57% in the same period.