Distribution of major natural resources of World-Water, Soils, Forests in reference to South and South-East Asia

Distribution of major natural resources of World-Water, Soils,  Forests in reference to South and South-East Asia



Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian subcontinent)

Natural resources are highly valued because human beings are dependent on them to fulfil their fundamental needs that changes with time. While natural resources are distributed in all through the world, specific resources often require particular conditions and so not all natural resources are spread equally. Consequently, nations trade their natural resources to make certain that their needs can be fulfilled.

Definition of Natural Resources

In simple term, natural resources are material and constituent formed within environment or any matter or energy that are resulting from environment, used by living things that humans use for food, fuel, clothing, and shelter. These comprise of water, soil, minerals, vegetation, animals, air, and sunlight. People require resources to survive and succeed. Everything which happens naturally on earth are natural resources that is minerals, land, water, soil, wind that can be used in many ways by human being. It can be explained by several environmentalist scholars that a natural resources is any kind of substance in its natural form which is needed by humans.

Classification Of Natural Resources

The general classifications of natural resources are minerals for example as gold and tin and energy resources such as coal and oil. The air, forests and oceans can also be categorised as natural resources. Theoretical studies have documented that Land and water are the natural resources, which include Biological resources, such as flower, trees, birds, wild animals, fish etc., Mineral resources, such as metals, oil, coal, building stones and sand, and other resources, like air, sunshine and climate (UNEP, 1987). Natural Resources are used to make food fuel and raw materials for the production of finished goods (Adriaanse, 1993). Natural resources change in value over time, depending on what a society most needs or considers most valuable.

Resource distribution is defined as the geographic occurrence or spatial arrangement of resources on earth. In other words, where resources are located. Any one place may be rich in the resources for people desire and poor in other. The availability of natural resources is based on two functions that include the physical characteristics of the resources themselves and human economic and technological conditions. The physical processes that govern the formation, distribution, and occurrence of natural resources are determined by physical laws over which people have no direct control. We take what nature gives us. To be considered a resource, however, a given substance must be understood to be a resource. This is cultural, not purely a physical circumstance.

Types of natural resources

The various types of natural resources are often categorizes as renewable and non-renewable resources.

Renewable resources

Renewable can be described by scientists as a resource that can be replenished or reformed either naturally or by systemic recycling of used resources. Renewable is resource or source of energy that is replaced naturally or controlled carefully and can therefore be used without the risk of finishing it all (Oxford dictionary). Another way to define is a resource that is able to be renewed and be capable of being begun or done again. Renewable resources are usually living resources such as plants and animals and they also include air and water. These resources are termed as ‘renewable’ because they can usually reproduce or restock themselves. Renewable resources are significant aspect of sustainability. Renewable resources are valuable because they provide green energy. Renewable natural resources include those resources beneficial to human economies that demonstrate growth, maintenance, and recovery from exploitation over an economic planning horizon. The natural environment, with soil, water, forests, plants and animals are all renewable resource. In the case of air and water, they are renewable elements because they exist as part of a cycle which allows them to be reused. Renewable resources can only exist as long as they are not being used at a greater rate than they can replenish themselves.

Non-renewable resources

Non-renewable resources cannot be re-produced or re-grown and are, therefore, they are available in limited supply. Scholars affirmed that Non-renewable resource is a natural resource that does not renew itself at a sufficient rate for sustainable economic extraction in meaningful human timeframes. Non-renewable resources are resources for which there is a limited supply. The supply comes from the Earth itself and, as it typically takes millions of years to develop, is finite. Non-renewable resources can generally be separated into two main categories; it includes Fossil fuels, nuclear fuels. Coal is considered a non-renewable resource because even though it is continually being formed, it is incapable to refill its stock at a rate which is sustainable (David Waugh, 2002). A non-renewable resource cannot maintain the demands for current human needs while still preserving the ecosystem for future generations.

Types of natural resources:

How are natural resources distributed throughout the world?

Distribution of resources is varied. Since the formation of earth, it has experienced numerous physical processes which have resulted in great variations between different areas. Since natural resources often need specific conditions in which to form, they are not distributed evenly across the world. For instance, Coal is usually found in areas which were originally swampland during the greatest coal-forming era in history, the Carboniferous Period. It has been observed that as the distribution of natural resources is varied, it is not unusual for some nations to have one type of natural resource in plentiful quantity and for other countries to have many different types but with only a small supply. This indicates that the nations which are rich in some kind of natural resources do not necessarily use them all themselves. As an alternative, countries often export the natural resources that they have plenty of and import those which they require.

It has been observed that generally populaces tend to settle and cluster in places that have the resources they need to survive and prosper. The geographic factors that most influence where humans settle are water, soil, vegetation, climate, and landscape. Because South America, Africa, and Australia have fewer of these geographic benefits, there is less population as compared to North America, Europe, and Asia.

Due to uneven resource distribution, human beings migrate to other regions where plenty of resources are available. Majority of people often migrate to a place that has the resources they need or want and migrate away from a place that lacks the resources they need. Lively examples in historical migrations are The Trail of Tears, Westward Movement, and the Gold Rush related to the desire for land and mineral resources. Economic activities in a region relate to the resources in that region. Economic activities that are directly associated with resources include farming, fishing, ranching, timber processing, oil and gas production, mining, and tourism. Many business scholars have affirmed that nations may not have the resources that are important to them, but business movement enables them to acquire those resources from places that have. For example, Japan has very limited natural resources but it is one of the wealthiest in Asia. Sony, Nintendo, Canon, Toyota, Honda, Sharp, Sanyo, Nissan are prosperous Japanese corporations that make products that are highly-desired in other countries. As a result of trade, Japan has enough wealth to buy the resources it needs.

Distribution of Key Natural Resources in the World

It has been seen that most of the countries in the world are having natural resources. Some have less amount while other countries are rich in particular natural resource. Economists stated that natural resources add wealth to nations.

When it is evaluated for resource distribution around the world, Australia has many natural resources. These resources include mineral resources, such as copper, gold and diamonds, energy resources, such as coal, oil, and uranium, and land resources that are used for farming and logging. These resources are financially important to Australia. Many people consider that the monetary system of Australia is resource dependent, which means that if these resources were to be depleted, Australia’s economy would suffer. Australia has more coal than is needed and so exports it to countries like Japan which are lacking in it. Australia does not, however, produce enough oil to meet the demands of consumption and it is forced to import it. Some countries, especially developing nations, have the availability of natural resources but they do not use them fully. Sometimes countries do not have a great demand for the resource or simply lack the technology to develop or extract it. Rich transnational corporations (TNCs) often pay a fee to do the mining or extraction of the natural resources and then export them to developed countries.

Mineral resources: Australia is major producer of minerals at global scale. The most important mineral resources in Australia are bauxite, gold and iron ore. Other mineral deposits in Australia include copper, lead, zinc, diamonds and mineral sands. A majority of Australia’s minerals are excavated in Western Australia and Queensland. The minerals mined in Australia are exported, or shipped abroad.

Energy resources: Australia has huge deposits of coal. Coal is generally found in the eastern part of the country in the Sydney and Bowen basins. Majority of Australian coal is exported to nations like Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Western Europe. The rest of the coal mines in Australia are burned for electricity within Australia.

Natural gas is also plentiful in Australia. Natural gas is used to heat homes and power certain types of vehicles. Natural gas reserves in Australia are mostly found in Western Australia and central Australia. Since most of these reserves are far away from metropolitan centres, gas pipelines have been built to transport natural gas to cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. Some of this natural gas is exported from where it is collected. Natural gas collected in Western Australia is exported directly to Japan in liquid form.

Australia is also rich in uranium and supply at global level. Uranium is used to produce nuclear power. Nuclear power and uranium mining are both highly contentious, as people are concerned for their environmental impact, because uranium can produce toxic energy.

Lastly, Australia has many land resources. Australian soil is used to grow food in the form of crops and to produce food for raising livestock, such as cattle. Australian forests are used as a source of wood for building and making paper.

When discussing about natural resources in Africa, It is revealed in reports that Africa is rich in natural resources including diamonds, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and cocoa beans, but also woods and tropical fruits. Russia is excessively capable of natural resources, but industrial development was hindered until the twentieth century by their Siberian inaccessibility. Russia now produces 20 per cent of the world’s natural gas, and oil is also a valuable commodity. Russia is self-sufficient in all major industrial raw materials, and contains reserves of less essential, but significant natural resources, including diamonds and gold.

Industrialized nations have benefit over poor countries because if they do not have the quantity or type of natural resources which they require, they can afford to import them. Developed countries need to import natural resources because they depend on them for the development of their economy. Their use of natural resources is considered as a well-planned and constructive industry. It has been recommended that developed nations use more of the natural resources of world as compared to other developing nations. Reports have signified that while developed countries account for 25 percent of the world’s population, they use 75 percent of the world’s natural resources.

Geographical Distribution of Oil and Natural Gas Deposits: It was documented in reports that about 70 % of global conventional oil and natural gas reserves are concentrated inside a so called Strategic Ellipseî stretching from Middle East to the North of West Siberia. Main consuming regions in 2004 were North America, Austral-Asia, and Europe, for natural gas North America, CIS and Europe.

Development of primary energy consumption worldwide and projections of IEA until 2030 (Sources: BP and IEA, 2015)

When appraising the distribution of natural gas, it is found in reports that about 41 % of global reserves are in the Middle East, about 32 % in the CIS countries and about 8 % in Africa.

Regarding iron core resource in the world, USA is rich in this resource. Ore is mined in the red mountains and Birmingham Valley. Northern New Jersey, the states of Utah, Nevada and California also are rich in iron core. In Canada, there are three main areas where iron core is mined that include Ontario, Quebec and new found land. In Europe, Germany, France, Sweden and UK are large producer of Iron ore. Ukraine has the sixth position in the world in producing iron ore and it produced 4.32 per cent of the world production in 2006. Krivoi Rog of Ukraine possesses best iron ore having 68.5 per cent metallic percentage. It contributes 75 per cent production of Ukraine. The estimated reserves of the region are more than 200 million tons. Other regions of Ukraine are Zaporozhe, Zdanow, Lipetsk and Kerch Peninsula.

South Africa is also major iron ore producing country of the African continent and ranks 8th in the world iron ore production. In South Africa Transvaal is the main iron ore-producing centre. Transvaal is having high-grade ore with 60 to 65 per cent iron content. The total reserves have been estimated at 10 billion tons in South Africa. The average annual production of South Africa is 4 million metric tons.

Distribution of key natural resources in South Asia: When appraising the regions of South Asia, it has been found that these provinces have enormous natural resource and ecological and biological diversity. Many researchers have recognized that The Southeast Asian states today are rich in natural resources and are major world producers of rubber, tin, copra, palm oil, petroleum and timber (Chia 1999). However population growth and economic development are intimidating the region’s rich heritage through the expansion and intensification of agriculture, the unrestrained growth of industrialization, the destruction of natural homes and urban extension. Southeast Asia has lavish source of hydrocarbon resources natural gas and petroleum.

Natural resources (Source: http://www.newsecuritybeat.org)


Traditional government accounting systems do not consider the significance of these natural resources. The South Asia’s nation governments have recognized several areas for growth that include nature-based tourism, mining, ecosystem, biodiversity and agriculture which will concurrently help diversity the economic and decrease poverty. In order to fulfil all development goals, the governments need to optimize use of natural resources. The main concentration of South Asia is to understand the value of natural resources that leads to better decisions for development. Valuing the environment and incorporating natural resources into national accounts, it can support better to nation’s economy.

Distribution of Natural Resources in China

China has a cosmic territory, with plentiful natural resources and diverse types of land resources. China’s land resources are large in absolute terms but small on a per-capita basis. There are more mountains than plains, with sophisticated land and forests constituting small proportions. Numerous land resources are haphazardly distributed among different regions. The cultivated land is mostly in plains and basins in the monsoon regions of east China, while forests are mostly found in the remote mountainous areas in the northeast and the southwest. Grasslands are chiefly distributed on inland plateaus and in mountains. The Agricultural Census in 1996 have shown that China has 130.04 million hectares of cultivated land and 35.35 million hectares of land suitable for agricultural uses. The cultivated land is mainly distributed in the Northeast China, North China and Middle-Lower Yangtze plains, the Pearl River Delta and the Sichuan Basin. It is established in research studies that China’s total forest area was 175 million hectares, and its forest coverage rate was 18.21 percent. The total standing stock volume of China was 13.62 billion cubic meters (The sixth national enumeration of forest resources, 1999-2003). The stock volume of its forests stood at 12.46 billion cubic meters.

Natural forests are concentrated focused in the northeast and the southwest, but uncommon in the densely populated and economically developed eastern plains and the vast north-western district. When considering regional distribution, China’s forests are found mainly in the Northeast China Forest Zone, the Southwest China Forest Zone and the Southeast China Forest Zone. Grassland in China is extensive. China has 400 million hectares of grassland. It is found in statistical report that China is one of the countries with the largest area of grassland in the world. Natural grassland is mainly distributed in areas west and north of the Greater Hinggan Mountains, the Yinshan Mountain and the eastern foot of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, while artificial grassland is concentrated in southeast China where it lies amid cultivated land and forests.

Mineral Resource in China are plenteous. A total of 171 kinds of minerals have so far been discovered, of which 158 have proven reserves. These include 10 kinds of energy mineral resources such as petroleum, natural gas, coal and uranium; 54 kinds of metallic mineral resources such as iron, manganese, copper, aluminium, lead and zinc; 91 kinds of non-metallic mineral resources such as graphite, phosphorus, sulphur and sylvine; and three kinds of water and gas mineral resources such as underground water and mineral water. Presently, the supply of over 92 percent of China’s primary energy, 80 percent of its industrial raw materials and more than 70 percent of its agricultural means of production come from mineral resources.

Energy Mineral Resources in China are also in huge quantity but the structure of these types of resources is not perfect, with coal making up a large proportion while petroleum and natural gas constituting comparatively small proportions. Coal resources has huge reserves and complete varieties but uneven distribution among different grades, with small reserves of high-quality coking coal and anthracite coal; wide distribution but a great difference in wealth for different deposit locations, with large reserves in western and northern regions and small reserves in eastern and southern regions; a small number of surface coalmines, most of which are lignite mines; and great varieties of associated minerals existing in coal seams.

There are large oil reserves in China and it ranks as one of the 10 countries in the world with more than 15 billion tons of exploitable oil reserves; low proven rate, with verified onshore reserves accounting for only one fifth of the total and the proven rate for offshore reserves being even lower; and concentrated distribution, with 73 percent of the total oil resources distributed in 14 basins each covering an area of 100,000 square km and more than 50 percent of the nation’s total natural gas resources distributed in central and western regions.

China is lavish in metallic mineral resources. It has proven reserves, more or less, of all kinds of metallic mineral resources that have so far been discovered at international level. Among these resources, the proven reserves of tungsten, tin, antimony, rare earth, tantalum and titanium rank first in the world; those of vanadium, molybdenum, niobium, beryllium and lithium rank second; those of zinc rank fourth; and those of iron, lead, gold and silver rank fifth.

China’s metallic minerals such as tungsten, tin, molybdenum, antimony and rare earth have large reserves, and are of superior quality and competitive in world markets. However, many important metallic minerals such as iron, manganese, aluminium and copper are of poor quality, with ores lean and difficult to smelt. Most of the metallic mineral deposits are small or medium-sized, whereas large and super-large deposits account for a small proportion.

China has full range of non-metallic mineral resources and it is one of the few countries in the world that have a relatively non-metallic mineral resources. Currently, there are more than 5,000 non-metallic mineral ore production bases with proven reserves in China.

Regarding water and Gas Mineral Resources, there are proven natural underground water resources in China amount to 870 billion cubic meters per year, of which 290 billion cubic meters are exploitable. The natural underground salty water resources in China stand at 20 billion cubic meters per year. Though, China’s underground water resources are not equally distributed, with the southern region rich, and northern and western regions poor. Underground water aquifer types vary from region to region. North China has a widespread distribution of underground water resources through pore aquifers, while its south-western region has wide distribution of Karst water resources. Marine resources in China are in huge quantity and scattered in the offshore waters which are sedimentation basins, with a total area of nearly 700,000 square km, estimated to contain about 24 billion tons of oil reserves and 14 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

Distribution of Natural Resources in Bangladesh

India’s neighboring country, Bangladesh has lavishly natural gas as natural resource and ranked 7th position in the Asia. Among the natural resources of Bangladesh are its arable land, timber, coal and natural gas. The most lucrative of these resources is the fertile sedimentary soil in the delta region largely moulded by the country’s physical geography. Bangladesh also receives heavy rainfall throughout the year.

Water resources

Asia’s water resources constitute a vast potential, both for generating hydroelectricity and for irrigating crops. Water is important for irrigation in many Asian regions that are either arid (as in much of Central and Southwest Asia), subject to long dry seasons because of pronounced monsoonal (seasonal) variation in rainfall (as in much of South and Southeast Asia), or subject to seasonal high water and floods (for example, from the spring snowmelt in Siberia, the Himalayas, and the mountains of Central Asia). Other regions, such as Indonesia, are particularly susceptible to longer-term climate variation, such as that caused by the El Niño phenomenon.

The management of water has been a prime focus of Asian peoples since the earliest civilizations were established on the continent; perhaps the most graphic expression of this is the Islamic tradition of building a garden in the desert, complete with splashing fountains. As ever-larger dams have been built, however, resistance has increased from opponents concerned with the environmental and social harm that such dams can cause.

The hydroelectric and irrigation potential in South Asia also varies by region. In Pakistan nearly all agriculture depends on the Indus River and its tributaries in the Punjab, and the waters of the Indus basin are highly regulated, with numerous barrages and canals providing water for irrigation. The Western Ghats, which slope down abruptly to the western maritime plains, would theoretically allow dams to harness water flowing down the steep slope; however, the rivulets that rise on the summit have an insignificant volume of flow in winter. Rivers on the eastern slope of the Deccan plateau, such as the Mahanadi and the Godavari, lend themselves to the construction of low dams with great volumes of flow, as also do the Himalayan rivers entering the Gangetic Plain. Nearly all of the highly seasonal rivers of peninsular India have been dammed. One exception was the Narmada River, where work began in the 1990s on the first in a series of 30 large dams. Construction of these dams has been vigorously opposed by environmentalists both within India and internationally.

The Himalayan ranges represent one of the world’s greatest “water towers,” with rich possibilities for utilizing steep drops for generating hydroelectricity. During the summer monsoon the heaviest precipitation on Earth falls there on the highest mountains. Nepal has a vast theoretical hydroelectric potential. Environmentalists worry that earthquakes in this seismically active region could cause the dams to fail. Some also argue that large dams might themselves instigate earthquakes, because the weight of the water in reservoirs could press on faults in the mountains and because water under pressure lubricates faults. Engineers, however, believe that they can address these problems. An obstacle to such development is the fact that the Ganges (Ganga)–Brahmaputra basin spans five countries—China, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. Power, irrigation water, and flood control would benefit India and Bangladesh most, but the sites of the projects would be mostly in Nepal and Bhutan.

In Southeast Asia the Mekong passes through six countries; again development has been stalled by regional political difficulties.

Botanical resources

The great deciduous forests of northeastern India, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia contain teak and other valuable hardwoods, as well as bamboo. Mangrove forests line the waters of the Ganges and Irrawaddy deltas and many small stretches of coast along the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia, and the Philippines. But in the Indian subcontinent lowland, forest has given way to cultivated land as population has expanded; agriculture has similarly reduced the natural forest areas of China to insignificance, except in the Northeast. Japan, on the other hand, is relatively heavily forested in relation to its area and population, although much of the present cover is planted forest. At one time, more than half of the Philippines was heavily forested, but tree cover in those areas—particularly in the good commercial forests—has been reduced considerably. Interest in the genetic resources of the forests is increasing. India’s neem tree, for example, produces an insecticide, used by farmers for generations, that is now being exploited commercially.

Grasslands in uncultivated steppe and semidesert areas form the other class of economically significant vegetation. These regions are the homeland of numerous animal species important to humans, such as the horse, and they continue to support huge livestock populations.

Fish and other sea creatures and various kinds of crustaceans and mollusks are heavily exploited by the populations of East and Southeast Asia. The coastal areas of India, Bangladesh, and Thailand are being developed for export shrimp farming on a large scale. The Indus has its own species of blind dolphin, and the great rivers of South Asia are home to the giant mahseer fish, threatened by pollution, overfishing, and habitat loss.


Distribution of Dominant Soils in Mainland Southeast Asia

There are 18 different Reference Soil Groups in MSEA, but not all RSGs are present in all countries. The calculation of the area for each RSG includes the proportional area of this RSG, both as dominant and as associated soil, in all soil units.

Acrisols can be found in most parts of MSEA, especially in Laos, which has over 70% Acrisols. This type of soil is rare only in the river valleys, lowland plains, and along the large rivers.

Gleysols cover 190,261 km2, or 9.9% of the area in MSEA. They are dominant in the inundation areas of the Tonle Sap (Great Lake) in Cambodia. They are also common in the wide valleys of rivers, in their deltas, and along the coastline in Vietnam.

Cambisols (covering 185,086 km2, or 9.6%) are only dominant in western Myanmar. In other parts of MSEA, they are widespread as an associated soil with a distribution of 10-20%.

Only a few small areas are dominated by Lithosols, which cover 138,208 km2, or 7.2% of MSEA. However, they are part of many soil units as an associated soil, with a share of 10%.

Luvisols cover 101,772 km2, or 5.3% of MSEA. They occur mainly in the plain areas and in the plateaus in NE Thailand and Cambodia.

Fluvisols, covering 90,447 km2, or 4.7% of MSEA, can be found along the big rivers and in the deltas (Irrawaddy and Mekong), mostly alongside Gleysols.

Nitisols cover 87,321 km2, or 4.5% of MSEA. They mainly occur in the mountainous areas of Myanmar, Lao PDR, and Thailand, often in the same locations as Acrisols.

Characteristics of the Main Reference Soil Groups in Mainland Southeast Asia

Specific soil characteristics, which contribute to soil health and crop plant production, are used to describe and compare the main soil types.

Fertility is a measure of soil’s contribution to the agricultural or ecological productivity of a given site. It incorporates information about many aspects of soil, including physical (e.g. texture, structure), biological (fauna), and chemical (e.g. nutrient availability, CEC, pH, organic matter).

Soil Structure is determined by the shape and size of the soil aggregates and their arrangement. A stable soil structure reduces erosion; improves infiltration and water storage; and eases root penetration.

Water holding capacity is the “ability of a soil to contain and to retain water”. It depends on many factors, including “texture, organic matter, porosity, and interconnectedness of pores” (Chesworth 2008).

Drainage refers to how well water infiltrates and moves downward through the soil (percolation). It is determined by the texture and structure of soil, by characteristics of lower soil horizons, and by the ground water table.

Soil fauna include a large number of species, ranging from microorganisms to mammals. Soil fauna has an important role in decomposition of organic matter. it also influences soil formation and soil structure. Most soil fauna are beneficial, but some are harmful to plants.

The world has moved a long way from the early paper soil maps to the interactive maps and resources provided by SoilGrids, the Harmonized World Soil Database, and the Digital Soil Map of the World. Soil is essential for all terrestrial life, and it is essential to know the fertility and capacities of your soil in order to manage it wisely. It is hoped that this reference guide can serve a use in your agricultural and community development projects by providing a background of the most common soil types in the Mainland Southeast Asia Region and beyond.


To summarize, Natural resources such as different materials, water, energy and fertile land, are the basis for humans on Earth. Besides resources such as water, air, sunlight, forest area or agricultural land, which exist as separate entities, other resources like metals, ores and primary energy resources have to be extracted from the soil to make them usable. Their value is mainly determined by the relative shortage of the resource in combination with its exploitability for industrial use.


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