Written by Sairaya Chopra, a grade 12 student
People want to live where they have clean air, fresh water, and the fewest risks – so why do we still live in megacities and geographically hazardous areas?
A resource is any physical material constituting part of Earth that people need and value; whereas a hazard is a threat (natural or human) that has the potential to cause loss of life, injury, property damage, socio-economic disruption, or environmental degradation. Both resources and hazards can be described as relationships between humans and the natural world. This article will evaluate whether the statement ‘People are most likely to live where resources are maximized and hazards are minimized’ can be agreed upon.
To begin with, natural resources including minerals, metal ores, gemstones, fossil fuels, and scenery attract populations and settlements to varying degrees. In some cases, the location of these resources creates large areas of the high-density population; which implies that the population is high relative to the size of the country. For example, large deposits of coal-fuelled industrial growth in Western Europe during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Other resources such as adequate water supply also play a huge role in deciding where people are most likely to live. Human settlements must have an adequate freshwater supply for domestic, agricultural, and industrial activities. Places that have adequate rainfall, for example in the mid-latitudes, would be more hospitable for humans.
Places like a river or lake are also populated; for example, the majority of the population of Egypt is located along the River Nile. An aquifer (underground water supply) – for example, the Great Artesian Basin in Australia, which supplies water to Queensland, the Northern Territory, New South Wales, and South Australia – is also more likely to be populated. Through this one can see how many people live where resources are maximized.
However, it is not necessary that people don’t live in places that lack resources. In some places, living conditions are terrible due to certain natural resources. For example, La Rinconada is a gold-mining town over 5,000 metres above sea level in the Peruvian Alps. The town lacks running water, but has a population of 50,000 people as the gold makes it financially viable and worth the hardships to live there. The draw of natural resources will depend on socio-economic factors. As La Rinconada is known for its gold, the fall in the price of gold would lead to it becoming depopulated. Seasonal factors are also important, for instance, a beach destination is likely to be much more populated during the holiday season.
Furthermore, even though it does not seem believable, living in hazardous areas along with its drawbacks, can also have some benefits. Many of the world’s highest-density pockets of population are located in tectonically hazardous areas. This is because they have been drawn to coastlines that have formed along continental plate boundaries.
The California coastline is a good example of this; the economic success of Los Angeles and San Francisco is largely due to their position on the Pacific coastline. Similarly, people live near volcanoes because volcanoes provide many opportunities for human activities, such as new land and islands for people to live on, fertile soils, soils rich in minerals, tourist destinations, and education purposes. For example, volcanic soils such as those of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, support rich coffee and sugar plantations and therefore support high population density, while being “hazardous”.
However, most people don’t like living in hazardous places such as near earthquakes and volcanoes because of the harsh impacts. Earthquakes can cause loss of life, destruction of buildings, fires, the spread of chronic illness, floods from collapsed dams, interruption of water supplies, etc. Similarly, volcanoes can cause the destruction of settlements, loss of life, loss of farmland and forests, destruction of infrastructure, out-migration, fewer jobs, disruption of communications, and many other problems.
It is clear that places with resources and hazards both have their benefits and drawbacks. However, one can’t completely say that people are most likely to live where resources are maximized and hazards are minimized. People can always live in places that are prone to hazards because of technology. For instance, building defences such as seawalls can protect people from river flooding while letting them use their water as a resource. Due to water transfer schemes, the city of Las Vegas currently prospers in a desert area that was once viewed as a life-threatening environment. This shows that people can live in places where there are resources as well as hazards.
To sum it up, after evaluating the relationship between physical factors and population distribution, as shown above, the statement ‘People are most likely to live where resources are maximized and hazards are minimized’ does not hold true, because other factors, as well as humankind’s ability to adapt to its environment, enable people to thrive nearly anywhere they choose to settle.
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