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Factors contributing to a country's level of development

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Introduction

A country's level of development is influenced by a number of interrelated factors. While it is difficult to separate these factors, they can be broken down into five major categories: historical, political, economic, social and environmental. Most developing nations of the world face development challenges as a result of a combination of these factors.

Some environmental factors which contribute to a country's level of development, such as natural disasters, are beyond human control. The majority of the development issues discussed in this chapter, however, have been created and continue due to the direct actions of humans. The very high rate and level of development experienced by most rich countries of the world is another factor which perpetuates many challenges faced by people in developing countries.

Historical factors that hinder development

Studying the past gives humans an enormous insight into the present. Using historical analysis in development geography helps to explain why many countries face development challenges, because a country's history is a huge contributing factor to its level of development.

Often, analysing a country's history will provide explanations for many of the political, economic, social and environmental factors that also contribute to its level of development. In developing countries of the world today, one of the most significant historical factors that has hindered development is colonisation.

What is colonisation?

Colonisation occurs when a country or group of people who wish to control 'new' territories form permanent settlements (or colonies) there. It usually involves the large-scale movement of people from the colonising power (also known as the mother or parent country) to the 'new' territory (the colony). Colonisation also usually involves the domination of the original inhabitants of the colony (the indigenous population).

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In most historical cases, colonisation has occurred as a result of the colonising power's desire to exploit new lands and peoples for their own economic and political gain. Natural resources, agricultural commodities, minerals, plants and spices are some common examples of products that colonising powers throughout history have taken from their colonies. In addition to this, the indigenous populations of colonies have often been forced to work under slave-like conditions for colonising powers. In almost all instances, land has been taken away from indigenous peoples and divided amongst colonial settlers.

This was the case during the Age of Colonialism, which began in the early 16th century, soon after Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Americas. For centuries following this 'discovery' in 1492, the European colonial powers of Spain, Portugal, France, England and the Netherlands formed colonies in North, Central and South America, which had a detrimental effect on the indigenous culture and heritage of these regions.

At the same time colonisation was occurring in the Americas, the same process was unfolding throughout large sections of Asia and Africa. It is considered an effect of colonisation that today the regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America comprise the least developed countries of the world.

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Political factors that hinder development

The political environment of a country, which is often closely linked to its history, also has a significant impact on its level of development. In general, governments have the power to take actions which direct a country's social and economic development. In many developing countries with unstable political histories, however, government corruption and greed have caused problems which have hindered such progress.

Wars caused by political tensions - within and between countries - also hinder governments' abilities to find solutions to development challenges. This is because wars are very costly and cause widespread death and destruction. Wars also often cause disunity amongst the population, which can lead to a breakdown in social cohesion.

Developing countries that lack a stable system of government or those that have experienced (or are experiencing) war, often become burdened with political crises which impede their development. These political problems can sometimes become firmly established and some countries can find it difficult to recover from them.

Economic factors that hinder development

The debt cycle

Many developing countries of the world are heavily indebted (owing money) to international financial institutions and foreign banks based in developed countries. The debt these countries are facing today is a result of large loans that were issued to them during the 1960s and 1970s. While these loans initially came attached with low interest rates, over time the banks which lent out the money have increased the interest rates on repayments. In most cases, interest rates have been increased to levels which are near impossible for developing countries to meet. In this way, debts continue to accumulate, and the money which could be spent by governments on such things as infrastructure and healthcare is spent on repaying debts.

Another factor which has exacerbated both the debt crisis and economic challenges in general in many developing countries is government corruption. Some of the countries which borrowed money from foreign creditors or international banks, for example, have since undergone periods of dictatorial rule. During these periods, some leaders have laundered public money instead of repaying their country's debt.

Globalisation and the free market economy

The process of globalisation has significantly changed the nature of how countries of the world trade their goods with one another. The free market system of international trade, while benefiting the economies of most developed countries of the world, has adversely affected the economies of many developing countries.

One way in which the global free trade market has done this is through the introduction of reduced protective tariffs and increased exclusionary trading blocs. Tariffs are a form of tax placed on foreign goods that arrive in a country. When a tariff is placed on an imported product, the price of that product in the receiving country will be higher and consumers will therefore be less likely to purchase it. Sometimes countries place tariffs on goods which they produce domestically for protective reasons.

Even though tariffs are often designed to protect local producers, they contradict the principles of the free market economy. Proponents (advocates) of free trade believe tariffs are harmful and free trade bodies, such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), endeavour to eliminate tariffs entirely. The introduction of free trade principles and the reduction of tariffs in developing countries have, however, already adversely affected millions of poor people around the world. Globalisation has led to a rise in powerful transnational corporations, which often outsource their labour to countries where workers are exploited.

Social factors that hinder development

Many countries lack basic infrastructure, such as roads, water and power utilities, hospitals, schools and welfare services for the disadvantaged. In most developing countries, this is because there is not enough public money (money raised by the government through taxes and national industries) to invest in the infrastructure which ensures that people's basic needs are met.

A lack of government spending on promoting contraception (prevention of pregnancy) in some developing countries has also seen birth rates rise considerably. High birth rates in developing countries exacerbate problems related to poverty, as often these countries do not have the social or economic stability to support such a large population. It should be noted, however, that people's decisions not to use birth control are often also cultural and/or religious. Poor health standards and low levels of education in developing countries can also lead to the spread of sexually-transmitted infections, and diseases passed from person to person through contact with contaminated blood and water. The HIV/AIDS epidemic currently crippling many developing countries of the world is an example of the devastating impacts that health-related problems can have on a country's level and rate of development. In the past two decades, HIV/AIDS has claimed the lives of around 20 million people and infected close to double this number of people, mostly in developing countries.

Environmental factors that hinder development

One significant environmental factor that can contribute to a country's level of development is the availability of natural resources. Countries naturally rich in coal and oil, for example, do not need to spend money on importing these resources, which are used to produce energy. When exported, natural resources also generate wealth for countries, which means that money can then be spent on other, new industries. Countries with well-developed industries are able to provide jobs, infrastructure and services for their populations, which increase the overall quality of life of their citizens.

Other natural factors that create and exacerbate global inequalities are natural disasters, such as floods, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions. The 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake (Boxing Day tsunami), which caused over 200000 deaths and devastated many coastal regions of the Indian Ocean, was an example of a natural disaster which severely hindered the development of affected countries.


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