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Environmental, economic, social and political factors affecting development – global imbalance of trade between different parts of the world.

Environmental factors affecting development – the impact of natural hazards.

The physical environment can have a direct impact upon the development of a place.  The UK benefitted in many ways from its physical or natural environment for its rise to a global superpower during the Industrial Revolution.  Its Island natural gave it a coastline to fully exploit for resources and many potential trade routes.  It had the right mix of natural resources to exploit for many Industrial processes, including coal, iron Ore and Limestone.  It also had a temperate climate without the extremes of weather that can damage development.  Many countries are not as fortunate and the following factors can limit development;

1.     Climate related disease – many tropical countries unfortunately suffer from diseases that thrive in hot humid conditions, such as Dengue Fever, Chagas Disease and Malaria.  People who get these diseases are incapacitated and cannot work or may even die, limiting development.

2.     A lack of natural resources – countries with few natural resources start off at a very low economic base and find it hard to create products that can sell on world markets.

3.     Natural resource curse theory – this is a theory that states if a country has one very valuable resource all efforts of the country are put into the exploitation of that resource.  That limits the POTENTIAL development of other industries and if the resource is in the hands of a minority unscrupulous ruling elite, the profits are not shared well amongst people in the country.

4.     Being landlocked with bad neighbours – although this has a political element to it, countries that have no access to the sea are at the mercy of their neighbours.  If they are “bad neighbours” who expect huge payments or have regular conflict, this can severely limit development.

5.     Climatic hazards such as hurricanes and drought are more likely to strike some countries than others.  For fragile countries a drought could have a devastating impact on development. The 2011 to 2012 Horn of Africa famine that affected Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Somalia had a long term impact.  As well as killing and weakening people from hunger and thirst, many of these countries had to deal with a refugee crisis, diverting valuable resources away from other development objectives.


Economic factors affecting development

Unfortunately poverty can lead to poverty.  The diagram shows the poverty trap, which is often thought of as a cycle.  Low investment in key areas such as infrastructure (roads, rail, telecommunications etc.), education and healthcare can have dire consequences for a population.  Populations in countries at low levels of development can become more vulnerable to ill health (as we have seen with HIV and AIDs in sub-Saharan Africa) which reduces the productivity of the workforce.  In addition, a lack of education leads to a lower quality workforce, and poor road networks are not attractive to outside investors.  Simple things like these can exacerbate (make worse) poverty, and keep countries mired in a low level of development.

It is very difficult to expand from a very low base, particularly in today’s very competitive global economy.  In addition, countries at low levels of economic development are also more likely to be victims of civil wars and their after effects.  Countries such as the Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda are good examples of this.  Wars consume vital resources and divert attention away from the crucial issues for normal people, healthcare, reliable food supplies, stability, economic well-being and access to clean drinking water.

The world’s poorest countries have also been at the mercy of a global trade system designed and controlled by the world’s richest countries.  Several measures put in place by the world’s richest countries mean that the world’s poorest countries are at a disadvantage;

1.     Import tariffs of goods from poorer countries put the prices of those goods UP

2.     Subsidies (payments from governments to the producer) of goods produced in richer countries push the prices of rich world goods cheaper. This makes it harder for poorer countries to compete.

3.     The world trade system encourages a “race to the bottom”, where buyers from richer countries go from place to place around the world driving down prices because supply of goods often outstrips demand.

In addition, the lack of reliable energy supply, political stability, infrastructure and educated workforce put countries at a disadvantage.  The net result in many poorer countries is that they are forced to export only lower value raw materials such as agricultural goods, whilst they buy back more expensive manufactured goods or services.  Poorer countries do not have the capital to set these types of industries up.

Social factors

There are many social factors that can affect the level of development of a place.  Things like lack of drive of social motivation for betterment, unproductive social functions such as war or having very large family sizes, negative social cultures such as gambling and drinking, and lack of skills due to poor training and education are some of these factors.  Education is particularly important, as many countries cannot afford to send all children to school even at a basic level. UNICEF claim that in 2006 93 million children of primary school age were not in school!

A map of Primary school enrolement

Source: UNICEF.

The exam board expects you to focus on WATER SUPPLY and QUALITY. Water quality can have a massive impact on people, and this links to India and its attempts to clean up the River Ganges.  Poor water quality has a direct impact on people’s lives as it is an essential element for live.  Poor water quality can lead to disease, which weakens people and therefore has a direct impact on their productivity and hence economic development.  Diseases related to poor quality water include Bilharzia (snail fever, where snails transmit flatworms to people causing internal organ damage), Yellow fever and Malaria (both related to mosquitos which breed around water) and cholera (extreme diarrhoea).  Water supply is another major issue because in many parts of the world unreliable water supplies limit agriculture and other development areas.  If people are searching for and carrying water they cannot focus their energies on other areas of the economy, limiting development further. According to WaterAid;

·         Around 700,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. That's almost 2,000 children a day

·         768 million people in the world don't have access to safe water. This is roughly one in ten of the world's population

·         2.5 billion people don't have access to adequate sanitation, almost two-fifths of the world's population.


POLITICAL FACTORS - The impact of unstable governments.

Governments play a lead role in the development process, and many governments are filled with honest people who do a good job trying to raise both the standard of living and quality of life of the people who live there. Unfortunately there are cases of governments that have corrupt officials who make money and wealth at the expense of the people that they are supposed to represent. Nigeria has been labeled as one of the most corrupt countries on Planet Earth by the BBC.  When politicians are corrupt developments in health, education, roads, power generation and clean water are less likely.  Companies and other governments are also less likely to invest in those countries as they are unstable. There is even a corruption perception index which correlates reasonably well with GNI!

The COMBINATION of environmental, social, economic and political factors have served to make global inequalities between the top 20% and bottom 20% worse.



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