The Effects of Environmental Factors on Economic Development

Instructor: Nick Chandler
This lesson looks at how the environment has affected economic development, including tropical versus temperate regions, regions ideal for bacteria, river or sea access, and more.

The Environment

Usually we talk about how economic growth affects the environment, but what about the other way around? If we think about the environment then we might consider the water supply, the temperatures in winter and summer, as well as the resources available to an area, like rivers, coastline, and so on. Each of these factors has an impact upon economic development in a country.

Many experts believe that tropical countries are disadvantaged economically. Let's have a look at the geographical differences between the tropics and temperate zones, as well as some other environmental factors that affect economic development.

Irrigation Needs

In the tropics, there may be water available but it evaporates more quickly due to the intense heat. To make sure that crops get a constant supply of water means that expensive irrigation systems have to be set up or crops will fail. This costs money which eats into the profits of farmers.

In the worst case scenario, if your country sits on a desert, then it's going to take considerable investment to put nutrients back in the soil as well as develop a constant supply of water. This is in contrast to countries such as Ireland where there is a high level of rainfall, mild winters and cool summers, which have led to farmers being able to grow the highest quantities of wheat in the world.

When there is a food surplus there is more than enough food to go around, so fewer people are needed to work in agriculture. These people can focus on other things such as science and education, and their society is likely to invent techniques and tools that will make farming and food production easier.

This means that the country develops beyond being only agricultural and develops a skilled population with a range of different abilities and expertise.

Ease of Crop Growth

Some countries have been disadvantaged as plant species vary from one geographical area to another. For example, historically speaking, Central America had corn (maize) for agriculture, which was difficult to cultivate and less nutritious than plants such as wheat found in Europe and rice in Asia.

Since the plant species in Europe were more nutritious, the population was likely to be healthier. Health may be affected by the types of illnesses and diseases, which may also depend upon a geographical region, as you will see in the following section.


For companies to function successfully, they need to depend on an active workforce. However, in warmer countries bacterial infection is more likely, as bacteria thrive in warm and moist environments. Diseases such as malaria require 18 degrees C for the bacteria to develop.

In the US and UK people often talk about 'flu season' in Winter, but many countries near the equator have to deal with many tropical diseases all year long - not only Malaria, but Dengue Fever, West Nile Virus, and Yellow Fever.

This means the workforce is likely to be cut due to illness, lowering the overall level of production. This also places a burden on doctors and hospitals, which costs the government money too. Malaria, for example, has a causal link to higher risk of extreme poverty.

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