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The People

Demography

The population of Central America is concentrated in districts of dense settlement, separated by areas of sparse habitation. Population densities reach more than 385 persons per sq km (more than 1,000 per sq mi) in parts of the Meseta Central of Costa Rica, but vast areas of eastern Honduras and Nicaragua have fewer than 4 persons per sq km (fewer than 10 per sq mi). The rate of population increase in much of Central America is high; in 2008 Nicaragua had an annual growth rate of 1.82 percent; Guatemala, 2.11 percent; Costa Rica, 1.38 percent; and Panama, 1.53 percent. The population increase is principally the result of continuing high birth rates and falling death rates. Increasing political unrest, economic hardship, guerrilla warfare, and military repression have forced many rural residents into urban centers; thousands also decided to begin the long trek to the United States via Mexico.

The people of Central America are becoming increasingly urbanized. In the mid-1990s about 45 percent of the inhabitants of El Salvador and Honduras and about 40 percent of Guatemalans were considered urban, while more than half the people of Panama and nearly two-thirds of Nicaragua’s people lived in urban areas. In each country except Belize the national capital is the largest city; the biggest urban center of Belize is Belize City.

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