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Global Resource Management

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Global Resource Management

What goes into a cup of coffee, and why does it matter to geographers? Consider the fact that every drop of coffee poured in the UK comes from a country in Africa, Asia, or the Americas- and then think about the effort it takes to get that coffee to the consumer. Every drop of coffee comes from a bean that was picked by hand, from a bush on a tropical mountain slope somewhere in the world.

Global Resource Management, roasted coffee beans, StudySmarterFig. 1 - roasted coffee beans

The resources we depend on come from all over the world, and the effects that we have as resource consumers are massive and unsustainable. More and more, we are moving toward a world where we understand and care about these effects, so global resource management, as you will find out below, is a critical part of what we do to care for the Earth.

Global resource management meaning

To understand what global resource management is and what it involves, we first have to understand its parts.

What is a resource?

Natural resource: anything derived from the Earth that people use.

Abiotic resources are derived from non-living things, such as minerals, whilst biotic resources are derived from living things.

Renewable resources can be restored; non-renewable resources cannot.

We can divide resources into three main categories: food, water, and energy. We will focus on these three, but there are others as well. Plants, for example, provide us fiber (like cotton), dyes, medicines (aspirin, for example, comes from willow tree bark), and you can probably think of many others.

For more specifics, please read our articles on Energy Management, Water Management, and Global Food Consumption.

What is "global"?

When we talk about global resource management, we are referring to the entirety of planet Earth, since our economy focuses on providing us resources from anywhere and everywhere, and this is connected to where we can get them, how much they cost, and other factors.

What is management?

When we manage something, this means that we care for it and we control it. Any type of resource management requires planning and coordination so that you can control the results. If you don't, all sorts of problems happen.

Putting it all together

Now that we know what the components of global resource management mean, what does the whole term signify? It means that we as individuals and societies, and humanity as a whole, need to plan and coordinate how we use resources at the global level.

Global resource management: planning, coordinating, and taking care of the Earth and its natural components (air, water, minerals, biodiversity) so that we don't use them up, destroy them, or cause harm to them or the people who extract and process them.

We separate global resource management into systems. There are global resource management systems for bananas and for coffee, and for diamonds, and oil, and water, and- if we are talking about climate change- there is a global management system for air itself.

Global resource management importance

Let's look at why it is crucially important for us, as 21st-century humans, to manage the resources of the Earth efficiently.

We live in a finite world. This means that the resources we have can and in some cases will run out. While some resources are renewable (if we are careful), others are non-renewable. Once we use up the non-renewables, like oil, they cannot be replaced.

Air and water are renewable, though if we damage them, they may be difficult to restore, and it can be very expensive to do so. The same with soils, forests, and other parts of systems- they can regrow, but it takes time. So if we protect our resources better now, we don't have to worry about paying to bring them back or clean them up at a later date.

Global Inequalities

There is great inequality of resource access and use in the world between people in different countries and regions of the world.

People in highly developed places like the US, UK, and Western Europe, have much larger ecological footprints than people living in developing places such as Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia and the Pacific.

One of the goals of global resource management is to improve the standards of living in places with little to no access to resources, guaranteeing them better wages, goods, and services- without hurting those who already have quality living standards.

Another goal is to reduce the high ecological footprint of some countries.

These are tricky but not impossible tasks, and they are very important, as you will see in the next section. You can also learn about many more details in our article on Inequality in Resources.

Ecological footprint: A measure of a person's or group of people's impact on the environment. One's footprint is sometimes expressed in "Earths," as in, a person from a rich country may consume the equivalent of 3.5 Earths. What this means is that if everyone on Earth consumed at the level of this person, it would take the resources of 3.5 Planet Earths to sustain the human population. You can find plenty of "footprint calculators" online that will give you an estimate of your ecological footprint.

Political instability

Resource mismanagement leads to a struggle between the rich and the poor. In a lot of countries, there are wealthy people who have privileged access to resources. In those places, the many have-nots suffer in poverty. Wars and revolutions start over this: the poor rise up and overthrow the rich to take control of their country's resources. This is one part of political instability.

Another part is that poor countries often have the greatest natural resource wealth, but they don't get to enjoy it. Oil-rich countries like Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria see the lion's share of their oil wealth going to fuel the economies of rich countries like the US and Japan, with few benefits for their own people.

Wars can start between countries that don't share their resources. For example, the government of 'Country A' can cut off the supply of its oil to 'Country B,' plunging Country B into chaos.

Rivers that flow through more than one country are often the sources of disputes. Countries upstream may use so much water that countries downstream are deprived and even run out, with disastrous effects on their own populations. Upstream countries may be damaging the river's drainage basin by deforestation, which leads to erosion and lower water quality, as well as a greater number of floods. Upstream countries may build hydroelectric projects with dams. Downstream countries that rely on such rivers for crop irrigation and drinking water may be left "high and dry," and face turmoil in their own populations. An example is the Nile River, pitting downstream Egypt against upstream Sudan and Ethiopia in the headwaters. Sudan and Ethiopia have come close to war over a dam project that benefits Ethiopia at the cost of countries downstream. A counter-example is the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine, which exemplifies successful global resource management by coordinating river protection between the nine European countries through which the Rhine River flows.

Many wars are resource wars- over access to water, sources of energy, and food. Global resource management can stop these from happening in the first place, by making access to resources more equitable (more fair).

Global Resource Management, Aswan Egypt, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Aswan, a city in Egypt, relies on water from the Nile River, which comes from many countries upstream

Stresses from climate change

In essence, global resource mismanagement is responsible for climate change. We have burned nonrenewable fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) unsustainably for over 250 years, sending carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have burned forests and grasslands, releasing more carbon dioxide. We have destroyed forests faster than they can grow back, thanks to our global demand for beef, palm oil, sugar, and many other products, so there are fewer places for carbon to be stored.

Examples like these show that it is important for the world to take coordinated action to reduce the harms we are causing.

Advantages of resource management

There are many advantages to resource management. An essential point to remember is that humans have always managed natural resources because they can see that mismanagement can cause scarcity, hunger, and other problems. For example, farmers have preserved their soil from erosion and kept their water sources from becoming polluted or drying up, while hunters knew not to kill too many of the animals they relied on, and fishers knew not to overfish their supply.

People who live in cities, however, may not see or even know whether the resources they depend on are becoming depleted (running low). They can't see the damage their demand for resources is causing.

Political stability

Global resource management means coordination of resource protection and use inside countries and between countries. It means that the profits from natural resource extraction are shared widely by the populations of resource-rich countries and that resources such as rivers are managed for the benefit of the countries that use them. This leads to political stability within countries and between countries.

The ethical thing to do

People in rich countries who learn the facts about how their bananas and coffee were grown often become concerned that they, the consumers, are the cause of the damage to ecosystems, biodiversity, and human societies that such unsustainable resource use creates.

What is the ethical thing for them- for us- to do? if we stop using those products altogether, then the people receiving the low wages will receive no wages.

What we can do is demand that companies supply us with products that do not harm the environment or people. We can even purchase 'ethical' products that benefit the producers and the environments where they are grown, fished, mined, etc. We can choose to pay more for better products- better for the environment, better for the producers, and better for the consumers.

Conflict minerals include diamonds, tungsten, and many others that cause huge suffering in countries where they are extracted. 'Blood diamonds' are diamonds mined in dangerous conditions, often by child slaves in African countries, and used to finance wars. Before a certification process existed so you could buy 'conflict-free' diamonds, consumers couldn't know whether the diamond engagement rings they bought were actually blood diamonds. Today, smartphones and other high tech still contain conflict minerals, but companies involved in their production are now usually required to certify that their mineral components are produced ethically.

Equality and higher standards of living

Another advantage of global resource management is that it lessens global inequalities and leads to better living standards.

Consuming organic vegetables, from the UK and abroad, is better for our own health, better for the ecosystem, and better for the people who produce them. How? They are not grown with chemicals such as pesticides that are dangerous for the environment, water, air, wild species, people who pick them, people who transport them, and people who consume them. Organic vegetables are grown on farms where the soil is protected, not destroyed. And yes, organics are often more expensive, but this means that people who grow them receive better wages. This is just one of many examples of how better management can lead to more equitable conditions.

Winning the battle against climate change

By making global climate agreements effective, we are managing how we use the air. We are limiting what we put into the air, which means switching to renewable energy use from sources that don't emit carbon dioxide. We are also protecting, restoring, and creating more carbon sinks- places like forests where carbon is stored instead of released into the atmosphere. We are protecting and restoring the oceans, coral reefs, grasslands, soil, water, and so on.

All of our actions to create better global resource management systems will help us win the battle against climate change.

Sustainability

The key concept for global resource management is sustainability. The push toward sustainability is called sustainable development.

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.1

Think of the Earth as your house. Would you destroy the house you live in on purpose? Probably not. The Earth is humanity's home, and as mentioned above, its resources are finite. We have to use them sustainably, not taking away more than can be put back in a short span of time. Otherwise, we run out.The key is sustainability because we simply cannot use up more than we put back.

Is sustainability easy to achieve? Certainly not- in fact, it is an enormous challenge for humanity. But don't lose hope. There are plenty of examples of sustainability in global resource management. You can read about one below.

Global resource management example

Let's return to that cup of coffee. Consider the whole picture. We will pick the Central American country of Honduras this time. First, let's learn what an inequitable, unsustainable, environmentally-damaging, climate-change-causing cup of coffee looks like from its source to your table.

Global Resource Management, coffee crop locations, StudySmarterFig. 3 - locations where varieties of coffee are grown (r=robusta, a=arabica, m=mixed)

Unsustainable coffee

At the source is a Honduran farm that grows coffee in the sun to increase profits. The farm owners first cut down the rainforest on a Honduran mountain, causing great damage to the water supplies of people in the valley below as streams are filled with eroded soil or dry up. Then they plant the coffee and apply pesticides and other chemicals.

This unsustainable coffee farm pays its workers the equivalent of £1 or less a day, and some of the workers are children. They live without electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing and they don't go to school. With what they earn, they barely survive.

In this example, huge damage is done to human lives and the environment, and this is happening all over the world. The advantage to you, the consumer? Cheaper coffee. The advantage to Honduras? The owners of the farm, likely wealthy Hondurans, benefit.

Sustainable coffee

Now let's look at a sustainable example.

First, is the coffee farm. No forest was cut down, and no harmful chemicals were used. A variety of coffee that needs shade was planted, along with trees to provide the shade, in an area that had been deforested. Water supplies for people in the valley are protected again. Birds can live in the trees that the 'shade coffee' grows under.

The shade-grown coffee is owned and harvested by local farmers who once worked on a large coffee plantation. Now, they own their own coffee, and as a result, they receive higher prices for it because the company that buys it pays premium prices for it. The coffee is marketed as "bird-friendly," "sustainable," "organic," "ethically sourced," and so forth.

The consumer in the UK can go onto a website and see photos and videos of the organic Honduran coffee farm. They learn about how their coffee is grown, and they find out that child labor is not used. The environment is protected.

This is how one small component of the global resource management system of coffee is becoming sustainable.

Global Resource Management - Key takeaways

  • The term 'global resource management' refers to ways we take care of and organize the production and consumption of natural resources around the world.
  • Ineffective global resource management, actually mismanagement, results in political instability, climate change, and global inequalities.
  • Global resource management systems are broken into the categories of food, water, and energy.
  • The goal of effective global resource management systems is sustainability.
  • A good example of a global resource management system is coffee.

References

  1. Bruntland, G. 'Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future.' United Nations General Assembly document A/42/427. 1987.

Frequently Asked Questions about Global Resource Management

A global resource management system is an organized and planned way of producing and consuming natural resources such as oil or coffee.

The three main types of resources are food, water, and energy. These are biotic (derived from living things) resources such as plants and animals, and abiotic, derived from minerals.

Shade-grown, organic coffee is a good example of sustainable food resource.

Global resource management is important because it allows humanity to prosper while also protecting the natural systems that sustain us and all species.

Global resource management is important because we live in a finite world but we mismanage its resources as if they were in infinite supply. With global resource management, we can help stop global inequalities, political instability, and climate change.

Final Global Resource Management Quiz

Question

What type of country usually faces economic water scarcity?

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Answer

Lower income countries (LICs)

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True or false: physical water scarcity happens when there is not enough water available for the population

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True

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What are the 2 types of water scarcity?

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Physical

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What is the water budget?

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The balance between the inputs and outputs of water in a system

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What type of water budget creates water scarcity?

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Where more water leaves the system than enters (water deficit)

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What are the 3 main ways that climate change can create water scarcity?

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  • Drought
  • Sea level rise
  • Acid rain

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_________ refers to the act of removing too much water from water stores

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Answer

Over-abstraction

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What type of water scarcity can pollution cause?

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Economic

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Question

As well as water scarcity, what is the other major potential effect of dam construction?

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Conflict / tension

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What is the most water-scarce region in the world?

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MENA region (Middle East and North Africa)

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What are the 2 major ways to manage water scarcity?

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Increase / conserve the supply and decrease the demand

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True or false: dam construction just creates water scarcity

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Answer

False

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How will climate change affect droughts?

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It will increase their frequency

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True or false: water scarcity is always the result of human activity

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False

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What are some of the potential social effects of water scarcity?

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  • Death
  • Illness
  • Disease (e.g. typhoid; cholera)
  • Conflict
  • Pressure on hospitals

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Question

The following is NOT a problem with hydropower in Nepal.

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Not enough energy potential

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What major country is found downstream of Nepal?

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India. Bangladesh is also downstream.

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When a Chinese company did not deliver on its contract to put a hydro project on the Budhi Gandaki river, what did Nepal do?

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Nepal revoked their licence and announced that it would build the project itself.

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Why are earthquakes a risk for hydro development in Nepal?

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Earthquakes can destroy dams, causing catastrophic flooding downstream.

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Why do people suffer when hydroelectric projects are built?

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People may lose their land and be flooded out of their homes.

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Of Nepal's total estimated hydro potential, how much can actually be feasibly harnessed?

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Around a half

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What is the amount of energy generated by a micro hydro project?

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Ten to 100 kilowatts

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Why is the use of firewood problematic?

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Cutting trees causes erosion and burning firewood is harmful to the eyes and lungs.

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What is solar powerful useful for in villages?

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Heating water, cooking, and drying

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What are three problems with sand dams?

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Siltation, contamination, and water loss

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Why is a sand dam considered a 'bottom up' solution?

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Because it can be built and managed by villagers and people at the local level, without the need of government or outside experts

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What two geographic requirements are needed for a sand dam?

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Bedrock that water can't seep through, and available sand in the drainage basin

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Why is it not recommendable to have a sand dam as the sole source of water?

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Because over-reliance on a single water source is risky in an arid climate. If the sand dam fails or runs out of water, water may not be available until the next rain.

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(True or False) Sand dams typically provide water to people for an entire year.

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False. Sand dams are rarely able to provide for a community's water needs for this long.

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The typical amount of water that is stored by a sand dam is

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millions of litres

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What material is used to construct sand dams?

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Reinforced concrete

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What country has the most sand dams?

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Kenya. it has thousands.

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Why might a Kenyan sand dam model not work in Ethiopia or Burkina Faso?

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Because local geographic conditions such as bedrock or climate may be different, requiring adaptations of the model to local conditions, or a different model altogether.

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What three major global issues do water dams help people adapt to?

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Desertification, drought, and climate change

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What is food insecurity?

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Food insecurity is the lack of access to food supplies that are nutritional and easily economically accessible. 


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In 2022, how many children were food insecure in the UK?

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2.6 million

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True or false: the most prominent cause of food insecurity is poverty, or low income.


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True

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Why does population growth affect food insecurity? 

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A rise in population increases the demand for food. With rising populations, and higher fertility rates (specifically in the developing world), food supplies may become strained.


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What are some factors affecting crop growth?

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  • Disease
  • Water insecurity
  • Climate

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Why may conflict cause food insecurity?

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  • Direct damage to farmland, reducing production.
  • People may flee war-torn areas, reducing their access to food supplies.
  • Conflict can result in high food prices, affecting people around the world.


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What is a good example of how food has been used as a weapon of war?


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Hitler's hunger plan.

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What is undernourishment?

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When people do not have access to or do not have enough vitamins and minerals needed for healthy living.


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True or False: Famine is deadly.

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True

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True or false: civil unrest may occur as a result of food insecurity.


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True

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What is human development in geography?

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The improvement of a population’s wellbeing.


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What is the Human Development Index (HDI)?


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This is the measurement of the level of human development. It considers three factors; the health of a population, education rates, and the standard of living. 


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What is life expectancy?

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The amount of time someone is likely to live.

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What percentage of children's deaths under 5 is caused by undernourishment?


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Answer

45%

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Why is soil erosion a problem for food insecurity?

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Answer

Soil erosion means it becomes difficult for crops to grow. Animal grazing, deforestation and overuse of the land contribute to increased soil erosion. 


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What is renewable energy?

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Answer

Energy that comes from a source that does not get depleted as it is used

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