An overview of global inequalities in the supply and consumption of resources
The consumption of resources across the world varies significantly. Typically, high-income countries (HICs) consume more than low-income countries (LICs). The main challenge is not having enough resources but that the resources that do exist are unevenly distributed. As a LIC develops so too does its demand for resources. This growth in demand, along with population growth, leads to a shortage of resources.
Global inequalities in the supply and consumption – food
The average calorie consumption in the UK is 3450 kilocalories. However, in a LIC such as Eritrea, it is 1590 kilocalories. There is a clear relationship between areas of greatest population growth and the areas that have the highest levels of undernourishment.
World map of energy consumption 2006 2008, from FAO Food Consumption Nutrient data
A world map showing population growth
Global inequalities in the supply and consumption – water
Water supply around the world is limited and unequally distributed. In order to compare water consumption between countries, a water footprint can be calculated. This is the total amount of water used per day, for things such as drinking and washing. It also includes the water it takes to produce energy, food, goods and recycling. The world average water footprint is 1,240 litres per person. The USA has a water footprint of 2,483 litres per person, whereas Bangladesh is 896 litres per person.
In the map showing the total water footprint of consumption per country (below), countries shown in green have a water footprint that is smaller than the global average;
countries shown in yellow-red have a water footprint larger than the global average.
Total water footprint per capita in the period 1996-2005 – source: Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2011)
The map below shows areas that suffer water scarcity. Some countries do not have enough water due to physical factors such as a lack of rainfall. Others experience economic scarcity which means they do not have the money to access water.
World water scarcity map – source WWF
Global inequalities in the supply and consumption – energy
As with water and food, there are considerable differences in energy consumption between countries. The richest billion people consume 50 percent of the world’s energy. Only 4 percent of the world’s energy is consumed by the poorest 1 percent.
Demands for energy resources are increasing in LICs and NEEs as they develop economically. As industry develops, farming becomes mechanised and urbanisation occurs there is a rapid growth in energy consumption.
How well off is the UK in terms of resources?
The UK has a resource surplus. This helps explain the UK’s early and continued economic development, and the relatively high level of wellbeing most people experience.
Food – The UK has a moderate climate, largely influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, which supports plenty of rainfall and mild temperatures. The UK is one of the most efficient producers of food in the world, benefitting from generally fertile soils, gentle relief in the south and east and advanced technologies.
Water – The west of the country is typically wetter than the east, however, water can be transfered from areas of surplus to areas of deficit. Despite this imbalance of supply and demand water supply is rarely an issue.
Energy – The Uk has considerable fossil fuel resources. In the past coal was the main source of energy, however, oil and gas is now more widely used. There are considerable reserves or oil and gas beneath the North Sea. The UK has a number of nuclear power plants, such as Hinkley Point and Sizewell, which use imported uranium. The UK has significant potential for renewable energy, with considerable investments are being made in off-shore wind farms such as those off the coast of the East Riding of Yorkshire. The UK has around 35% of global offshore wind capacity installed and seven of the ten largest offshore wind farm in the world.