Contrasts within Asia

Asia is one of the world’s seven continents. It is the world’s most populated continent. 4,216 million people lived there in 2011, 60 per cent of the world’s population.

India and China are the two most populated countries in the world, each containing nearly one fifth of the world’s population. Both are located in Asia.

Economic diversity

Asia highlights the diversity there can be between different economies. The economy of a country refers to things to do with the nation’s wealth and money. Asia contains some countries that are economically strong (more economically developed countries, (MEDCs). One of Asia’s rich industrialised countries is Japan.

Some countries in Asia have developing economies, eg Taiwan. Taiwan can be referred to as a newly industrialised country (NIC). Characteristics of an NIC:

  • has a rapidly growing economy

  • their economy is moving away from being based on mainly primary industry

  • invests in manufacturing (secondary) and technology (quaternary) industries

  • attracts multinational companies

  • has a large workforce, reliable and initially prepared to work for long hours for little pay

Some Asian countries are very big players in a global market. China is the largest exporter in the world and this has helped finance industrialisation. The country is now predicted to become the largest economy in the world.

The Middle East also falls under Asia. Some countries in the Middle East (including places like Qatar and Kuwait) are quite rich from their oil exports, however the wealth belongs to only a few people.

In contrast, Laos and Nepal are two countries which do not have very developed economies. They struggle to trade in the global market. They are called less economically developed countries (LEDCs).

Physical diversity

The physical geography of an area looks at its natural features, such as the climate, topography and ecosystems. Asia’s physical geography is as diverse as its human geography.

In the north of Asia is Siberia – part of Russia. Siberia characteristically has an ecosystem adapted to the cold (called taiga and tundra) and a subarctic climate that averages around -5°C annually.

The Middle East has a significantly warmer climate and contains countries including Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and Kuwait. This area includes desert ecosystems that host plants which have adapted to live in very dry areas.

South-east Asia (containing countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines) has a tropical climate. Tropical storms pass over.

The emerging countries: China and India

Two of the world’s most populated countries, China and India, are in Asia. They are both globally significant and are both aiming to become global leaders. They are referred to as ‘emerging countries’.

China’s growth is partly due to its move from agricultural production tomanufacturing. China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001. Many manufactured goods that we buy in the UK come from China. The growth of manufacturing in China is due to many reasons, including:

  • China has created excellent opportunities for businesses to set up – making sure that the infrastructure is present.

  • Incentives are offered by some agencies in China. There are Special Economic Zones (SEZ) that offer tax incentives to foreign businesses. One SEZ is Shenzen.

  • China has a good supply of highly-skilled labour.

  • There are lower labour costs involved – there is no national minimum wage.

  • China is able to offer economies of scale because it already has a large manufacturing base.

  • China has a growing domestic market for goods because of its large population.

  • China has a reputation of a strong work ethic, and workers are used to long working hours.

  • Health and safety laws are sometimes not heavily enforced which means companies do not have to spend money on meeting health and safety standards.

The growth in inequality

Both China and India have a very unevendistribution of wealth and access to basic needs. India, for example, has extreme poverty within the country and alarge rural population. One indication of the extreme poverty is the slum area in Mumbai. The area is called Dharavi, and was featured in the film “Slumdog Millionaire”. Below is a list of the key features of this slum:

  • It is one of the largest slums in Asia.

  • The slum area was initially an area of temporary squatter shelters – and has now grown to 4 sq km and become permanent.

  • The area is unplanned, and most dwellings are illegal. The means that basic sanitation is not present, with an average of one toilet for over 1000 people.

  • Water pipes and electricity cables are present and do connect to many dwellings. However, many have been set up in a DIY fashion and pose health and safety risks.

  • Informal industries have been set up which help to bring money in to the residents.

  • The government and developers want to redevelop the area. The area is located in a highly desirable area of Mumbai, which could command a high price for rents when developed.

Population in Asia

The population structure of a country gives information about:

  • how many people of each age group there are

  • how many people of each sex there are

It is commonly shown on a diagram called a population pyramid.

Ageing and youthful populations

An ageing population, eg Japan, has an increasing proportion of older people (65 years and over) in the population. The population structure is becoming top-heavy. In 2011, nearly 25 per cent of Japan’s population was over 65 years old. This has increased from nearly 5 per cent in 1950. There are two main reasons for this:

  • Japan’s life expectancy is increasing (so people are living longer). In 2011 Japan’s life expectancy was 83 years.

  • Japan’s fertility rate is low. 1.4 babies per woman in 2011.


Japan’s ageing population

A 2011 population pyramid showing Japan has a relatively old population profile.

Japan’s ageing population

A population pyramid for Japan in 2050 showing Japan will have an older population profile.

Japan faces certain challenges with an ageing population. These include:

  • More demands for resources used to look after the elderly.

  • The percentage of economically active people is decreasing. This means there are proportionately less people who pay taxes and are able to care for the elderly.

  • The health service will be under increasing pressure, as old people require more medical care.

A youthful population has a high percentage of young people. For example, in 2011 36 per cent of people in the Philippines were aged 15 or younger. Only 4 per cent of people were aged 65 or above. The high percentage of people aged 15 or under is caused by:

  • a high birth rate (reasons for this include the lack of availability of or knowledge about contraception)

  • a relatively low life expectancy (68 years)

The problems caused by a youthful population are:

  • it puts a strain on healthcare services

  • there may not be enough jobs for everyone in the future

  • it puts a strain on the education facilities – and governments for LEDCs do not have adequate money to build facilities

  • there is more reliance of the economically active population

Population policies in Asia

One child policy in China

In 1979, the One Child Rule was introduced in China. It is an anti-natal policy. It was brought in because of concerns about the size of China’s population. In the 1960s the fertility rate was as high as 5.7 and the country could not support this rate of population growth. The new policy meant that any couple having a second child would get a heavy fine, around £3,000, which only the very affluent could afford. There were financial incentives to follow the policy.

A 90 per cent majority of China’s population were affected by this policy. The remaining 10 per cent were exempt as they were not from the ethnic Han majority.

In time, the policy has been adapted. Two babies were permitted if:

  • the people lived in the rural areas

  • both parents were a one-child household themselves

  • the first child was a female

  • the first child had a disability

  • the first child died in the Sichuan earthquake in 2008

  • there was a multiple birth, the mother was allowed to keep all the children

The impact of the policy

  • The fertility rate has dropped from 5.7 in 1960 to 1.5 in 2011.

  • About 400 million births may have been prevented.

  • In urban areas the policy was very effective.

  • It has led to an ageing population with a high dependency ratio. The ageing population is also increasing because of the improvements in living standards and life expectancy in the country.

  • The cultural preference for boys has meant that there seems to be a gender imbalance in China. There have been reports of female infanticide, especially when the policy was first introduced.

  • This gender imbalance is now narrowing as China seems to be valuing girls more. For example, girls are now encouraged to travel to the factories to work and bring home pay. Being a one-child policy girl also meant extra university points in one province.

Singapore: changes in a population policy

Like China, Singapore had a high birth rate and fertility rate.

The government introduced an anti-natal policy to try to reduce this. It did this by:

  • Making contraceptives available at a low cost.

  • Creating family planning clinics to help make advice more available.

  • Publicising through the media the advantages of having a smaller family.

  • Introducing financial incentives for smaller families (such as free education and health care benefits). The financial support stopped with larger families.

The impact of the policy:

  • The fertility rate has dropped to 1.2 in 2011.

  • There were insufficient workers to fill job vacancies because of the decrease in the birth rate.

  • Singapore has an ageing population.

  • The change in the birth rate was more dramatic because it was also caused by the increasing development of Singapore, meaning that more women followed careers rather than starting a family. This meant the birth rate fell because of factors not directly because of the policy.

A pro-natalist policy

As a result of the decline in the birth rate, in 1984 the Singapore government started to reverse the anti-natalist policy. In 1987 some pro-natalist policies were introduced.

  • The phrase “have three or more children if you can afford it” was promoted by the government.

  • Financial benefits were given to encourage female graduates to have more than three children.

  • A baby bonus scheme was introduced which gave cash to new mothers.

  • Singapore has also recently introduced carers’ leave for fathers.

  • Other attempts to increase the birth rate have been to send out Valentine cards encouraging people to “make love, not money”. They also arrange weekend cruises to help match-make potential couples. These schemes have yet to be proved successful.


In many areas of Asia there is rural-to-urban migration. China has seen rapid urbanisation as an increasing proportion of people live in urban areas. Over the last 20 years, the percentage of people who live in cities has increased from 20 per cent to nearly 50 per cent. The reasons for rural to urban migration are:

  • people are moving into cities to find work

  • farming systems in rural areas changed to allow people to leave the group cooperative

  • newly industrialised areas needed workers

  • there was the belief that the standard of living is better in cities

In some areas, such as Shanghai, the birth rate is below replacement level. Therefore, the city’s population would be shrinking. However, because of migration, the size of the city is increasing rapidly.


Shanghai: an expanding city

Busy roads full of traffic against a backdrop of skyscrapers in Shanghai.

Shanghai: an expanding city

Shanghai is the home of many large companies so people migrate to the city to find work.

Hazards in Asia

The World Bank has identified Asia as the most hazardous continent in the world. Countries which are particularly prone to hazards are Japan, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, Philippines and India.

Tectonic hazards

There are several plate boundaries which cross Asia.

Earthquakes and tsunamis – Japan

Japan is situated near a destructive plate margin, where the Pacific Plate is being pushed under the Philippine Plate.

Earthquakes are common in Japan. Japan has invested money into research and resources to help prepare for earthquakes. The preparation includes:

  • earthquake drills (practice evacuations) are carried out each year

  • buildings are designed to withstand strong tremor

  • households have earthquake survival kits and are familiar with what to do in an earthquake

It is able to invest in earthquake preparation because it is a wealthy country.

On 11 March 2011, a magnitude nine earthquake struck off the coast of Japan. This earthquake created a tsunami, which was 10 metres high in places.

A tsunami is most likely to happen:

  • when an earthquake focus is shallow

  • when the earthquake focus occurs in the ocean

  • when the earthquake is a high magnitude (6 or more)

The death toll from this earthquake is thought to be up to 30,000 people. It was the tsunami which caused the most deaths. Other problems were caused by this disaster included:

  • disruption to the infrastructure

  • radiation leaks from the nuclear power station at Fukushima

  • intermittent power (because many of the country’s nuclear reactors were taken off-line while there was uncertainty about the radiation)

  • industries had reduced production because of the limited power supplies

  • debris left behind from the tsunami covered large areas

Climatic hazards and extreme weather

Asia also suffers from a variety of climatic hazards. These include:

  • mudflows, landslides and flooding caused by heavy rain during the monsoon season

  • tropical storms originating from the Pacific Ocean

  • too little rain causes drought in some areas, eg China’s drought in 2011, followed by torrential rain. This caused crops to fail and food shortages

  • drought – about 14 per cent of the total land area in India is thought to be drought-prone


Case studies: hazards in Asia

Case study: Tsunami – Indian Ocean, Boxing Day 2004

On 26 December 2004, an earthquake struck in the Indian Ocean. The earthquake was thought to be a magnitude 9.1. The movement from the earthquake caused water to be displaced, triggering a tsunami which was up to 30 metres high. There was so much damage because there was no early warning system. The wave affected most countries bordering the Indian Ocean.

The effects of the Indian tsunami:

  • 200,000 deaths

  • whole areas of towns and villages were destroyed

  • nearly 2 million people lost their homes

  • livelihoods were lost – millions of fishermen lost boats, and tourist numbers declined

  • infrastructure was damaged


Damaged caused by Indian Ocean tsunami

Soldiers survey the damage caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Damaged caused by Indian Ocean tsunami

Huts are flooded after a Tsunami hits Indonesia

Case study: Cyclone Nargis – Burma, May 2008

Cyclone Nargis struck Burma on 3 May 2008. The area it struck was a low-lying delta to the south. With it came strong winds of up to 210 kilometres per hour. It was classified as a Category 4 cyclone on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Much of the devastation was a result of the storm surges which swept up the river channels from the delta.

The effects were:

  • over 75,000 people died

  • over 50,000 people went missing

  • 150,000 people were made homeless

  • nearly 1.5 million people were severely affected by the disaster

  • homes and villages were swept away

There was resistance from the military government to allow aid in. This is likely to have led to deaths which otherwise would have been avoided.


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