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Countries are grouped according to their level of development. The terms geographers use to group countries are High Income Countries (HICs), Middle Income Countries (MICs) and Low Income Countries (LICs). People living in the developed world (HICs) have better living standards whilst those in the LICs are very vulnerable.


Quality of life around the world is unequal and often not at all fair. Some people have (and they have quite a lot while others have nothing – the have nots. This is called the development gap.

Development – is the process of a country becoming richer.
However, development involves more than just wealth – further and deeper issues need to be considered – standard of living and the quality of life that populations have to endure.

Standard of living refers to the level of wealth, comfort, material goods and necessities available to a certain socioeconomic class in a certain geographic area.

The term quality of life (QOL) refers to the general well-being of individuals and societies.


Development is therefore the improvements in standard of living and quality of life that follow from a country becoming richer.

The Brandt line divides the world in two halves the have nots (south) and the haves (north).


Facts about development

1 in 5 of the world’s population live in the rich north yet the rich north uses four-faiths of the world’s resources.
The richest three people in the world have more money and property than all the money and property owned by the poorest 600 million people.
100 million people in the world are homeless.
900 million people have no education.
880 million people don’t have to eat.
1 percent have been to university.
The cost of providing basic healthcare and food for everyone in the world would be less than is spent in Europe and the USA on pet food for a year.

Measuring development – indicators of development

Infant mortality rate (per 1000): The number of children who die before they are 1 year old, measured per 1000 born. You would expect a less developed country to have a high rate due to poorer diet and health care. Example countries: UK = 6; Mozambique = 123

Life expectancy (years): The average age that someone living in that country will live to. You would expect it to be highest in the more developed countries, where there is better access to health care and a better diet. Example countries: UK: Male = 74, Female = 79; Mozambique: Male = 44, Female = 46

Daily calorie intake: The amount of food eaten by a single person on average. There is a recommended daily calorie intake for an adult which is not reached by many developing countries, especially in rural areas.

Population per doctor: The total population divided by the number of doctors in the country. Example countries: UK = 300; Mozambique = 33,333

Adult literacy (%): The percentage of the population who are literate (in other words they can read and write). Example countries: UK = 99%; Mozambique = 37%

Gross domestic product (GDP) – The total value of goods and services produced by country, divided by its population. GDP is the most commonly used indicator of wealth, however it does hide differences in wealth within a country.

Percentage working in agriculture (%): A less developed country would be expected to have a far higher percentage of people still working in agriculture, mainly as subsistence farmers, growing only enough for them and their family. A more developed country would have far more technology in farming, and therefore less workers, as well as having far more people working in the manufacturing and service industries. Example countries: UK = 2%; Mozambique = 85%)

Percentage living in urban areas (%): As countries develop, there tends to be a mass in-migration into the cities, causing rapid urban growth. Therefore you would expect a more developed country to have a higher percentage of people living in the urban areas. Example countries: UK = 90%; Mozambique = 32%

Access to clean water (%): In Britain, we take clean, safe water for granted, but that is not the case in many of the less developed countries of the world. This can lead to outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, dysentry and typhoid.

Population indicators

Population indicators such as population, population density, population growth, fertility rate, birth and death rate are all useful measures of development. Birth rates and death rates are very good in understanding the quality of healthcare in a country.

A large or fast growing population can be blamed for causing underdevelopment. However this can be a mistake because there might be other reasons for underdevelopment. The large or growing population could be a symptom of problems rather than the cause


The Human Development Index (HDI)


In 1990 the United Nations introduced the HDI and it works by ranking countries according to the Quality of Life of their citizens. The HDI is a composite of three variables:-

Life Expectancy – is regarded as the best measure of a country’s health and safety

Education – attainment is obtained by combining adult literacy rates and the average number of years spent at school

Income per Capita – is adjusted to actual purchasing power i.e. what an income will actually buy in a country.

The scores are between 0 to 1 and the closer a country is to 1 the higher the level of development.

Obstacles to development

There are two types of obstacles – physical and human.

Physical factors

Climate – extreme climate (hot or cold) make developments difficult eg the Sahara desert
Relief – mountainous landscapes inhibit development.

Water supply – arid areas – deserts restrict development and areas that have frequent floods have development problems Bangladesh.

Ecosystems – dense forests make development difficult. – amazon rainforest
Natural resources – countries with many natural resources have an economic advantage compared to countries that have few resources – Dubai plenty of oil.

Human factors

Colonialism – during the 15th and 16th centuries Europe extended their territories by taking control of countries in North And South America, Africa and Asia. They used their power in these countries to mainly take control of the other countries raw materials. The immediate effect of this was to strip wealth of the colony and increase the wealth of the country in control. This created unequal flows of wealth.

Civil war – a number of LICs have suffered from wars between opposing groups within the country. Money that should be used for development is being used to finance war.


Debts – HICs have lent money to LICs to help them develop. However they have such huge and are therefore paying back their loans and not spending it on development.
Health and disease – some countries have been held back due to infections and diseases. Cholera, malaria and AIDs are three of the most serious diseases facing LICs today.


Case study: Uneven development within Brazil


Brazil has very different levels of development. The core area, in the south of the country:
contains the cities of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte
has fertile soils for farming, has good access to ports for trading, has benefited from business investment in the area.
The periphery is in the north and north east of the country, areas which:
are a long way from the core suffer from a wet and tropical climate in the north, and semi-arid in the north east include dense rainforest are difficult for access to ports and trading links. Even within any city of Brazil there are different levels of development.

The photograph below (from São Paulo) shows how poverty and luxury can be next door to each other.


International trade

International trade is the buying and selling of goods and services between countries. Goods are traded on a global scale but it is difficult for poor countries to compete. Some believe the rules of trade are unfair. Rich countries can raise tariff barriers to stop cheap imports undercutting their own goods. In the past some countries made money by colonising other countries and using their raw materials to produce manufactured goods.

Exports – goods and services sold to other countries
Imports – goods and services that are brought from other countries.
Balance of trade – differences of the total goods and services imported and the total value of goods and services exported.
Surplus – country has exported more than it imports – that money can be used for development.
Deficit – a country has imported more than it has exported. Therefore, countries need to borrow money and will struggle to develop.
Primary products – LICS export mainly primary products however once they import goods – manufactured goods – which are more expensive they quickly fall into a deficit.

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Fair trade


The result of the pattern of world trade is that the workers in primary industries in LICs often lose out. They receive low wages and often have poor standards of living. They cannot afford education for their children and many children are required to work to help their families earn a living.

Fair trade means that the producer receives a guaranteed and fair price for their product regardless of the price on the world market. This means their quality of life should improve, as well as the long-term prospects for their children.
Fair trade products sometimes cost more in supermarkets in MEDCs, but many consumers consider this a small price to pay for the benefits they bring.
Fair trade sets minimum standards for the pay and conditions of workers. The Fair Trade Organisation promotes Global Citizenship by guaranteeing a fair, minimum price for products. In this way, they support producers in improving their living conditions. About 5 million people benefit from Fair Trade in 58 countries.
Fair trade products are becoming more widespread and include tea, coffee, sugar, chocolate and cotton.

Transnational corporations (TNCs)


TNCs are companies that operate in more than one country. TNCs will normally locate their headquarters in their home country, for example Toyota has its headquarters in Japan. Headquarters are normally located in the TNCs country of origin because this is where the company was first established, where most of the profits will return to and where most of top management team is from. Most TNCs will also have R&D (research and development) facilities which they will locate in developed country where there is a skilled workforce and a high level technology. However, TNCs will often chose to offshore there manufacturing plants to LICs where productions costs are lower (cheaper labour, cheaper land, etc.)


Problems with TNCs – TNCs are often criticised for having too much power. Below is a list of 25 of the world’s biggest TNCs, based on their market value (share price). Nearly half of the companies are headquarted in the US, but China already has four and this figure will only increase in the future as the Chinese economy continues its rapid growth. The TNCs are have a turnover more than many LEDCs. For example ExxonMobil employs about 84,000 people, has a turnover of about $383 billion and a profit of about $30 billion (this is nearly twice El Salvador’s total GDP). They are criticised because they employ so many people and earn so much money that they hold power over countries who fear losing the investment of TNCs. Because they can afford the best technology, the most skilled workers and the best lawyers they can also draw up very favourable contracts which may exploit poorer countries.


High Income Countries (HICs) have high levels of economic development compared with Low Income Countries (LICs). Many HICs make allowance in their domestic budgets to provide aid to LICs. Many charities also exist to provide aid to LICs

Types of aid

Emergency or short-term aid – needed after sudden disasters such as the 2000 Mozambique floods or the 2004 Asian tsunami.
Conditional or tied aid – when one country donates money or resources to another (bilateral aid) but with conditions attached. These conditions will often be in the HICs favour,
Charitable aid – funded by donations from the public through organisations such as OXFAM.
Long-term or development aid – involves providing local communities with education and skills for sustainable development, usually through organisations such as Practical Action.
Multilateral aid – given through international organisations such as the World Bank rather than by one specific country.

Appropriate development


Aid sometimes help countries develop for a number of reasons: corruption, paying back loans, environmental damage etc

For aid to work it needs to:
Go to the people that needed it
Does not damage the environment
Local people can get involved
Projects are small scale
People have the skills to use the aid
Aid does not damage culture
Aid uses simple technologies
Aid is sustainable




The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) are poor countries with high levels of debt and poverty. As can be seen from the map the majority of these countries are located in Africa, with a few in SE Asia and Latin America. The HIPC programme was initiated by the IMF and World Bank in 1996 after extensive campaigning from NGOs. Countries were only admitted to the programme if they could prove that there debt was unsustainable. The majority of the debt relief is coming from the IMF and World Bank.

To remain eligible for debt relief countries had to enforce anti-corruption efforts, promote democracy and account for expenditure.



In 2000, the United Nations (UN) set 8 targets, known as Millennium Development Goals, which aimed to promote human development.

The map shows the number of illiterate women over the world.


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