Natural resources can be termed as natural endowment of a nation. It is what occurs naturally within a defined geographical region which can be considered valuable in the form that it is found or in their natural form. The value of natural resources is taken in terms of the quantity of the resource available and level of demand of that resource. Any naturally occurring commodity should be taken as a natural resource when its usefulness revolves around extraction, purification and exploration for meaningful purposes. In this regard some activities related to natural resources like mining, oil drilling and refinery, fishing, and others will naturally be taken as natural resource exploitation while other like agriculture may not taken in such context. According to the United States Geology survey (1999) natural resources should include minerals, energy, land, water and biota.
Natural resource can be renewable and nonrenewable. Renewable resources include those naturally occurring resource which cannot be exhausted despite the level of exploitation for example, hydroelectric power, solar power, wind power, and others. Non renewable resources include those resources that occur in fixed quantity and cannot be regenerated upon exhaustion. These resources cannot be regenerated while others will take a very long time to renew. They include resource like fossil fuel, minerals, and others. Endowment in natural resources has long been considered by economists as comparative advantage for nations. Full exploration of natural resource has been source of economic growth and competitive advantage for many nations (Weintraub et al., 2007). In this paper, we are going to compare natural resource endowment and exploitation in different regions including United States, China, Europe, and Iraq.
Comparing use of natural resources
(i) Use of natural resource in United States
According to the US Geology Survey, United States is endowed with a lot of natural resource ranging from land, energy, water, minerals, and biota. The resources include renewable and non renewable resources which have been used to enhance the economic growth of the nation. United States is endowed with a lot of natural resource but not all have been fully exploited to create a competitive economic advantage. While the country is endowed with a lot fossil fuel resource, it continues to rely on imported oil from Middle East and other regions in the world. Offshore oil reserves and reserves in animal reserve area form a bulk of fossil fuel resource which has not been exploited. in terms of land, the country has an arable land covering approximately 18% which has been fully exploited in agriculture production for crops like Wheat, corn, fruits, vegetables, cotton, others. The land also supports other activities like beef, pork, poultry, dairy, fish, and forestry production.
The country is endowed with other mineral resources. According to infoplease (2001) the country mineral wealth include “coal, copper, lead, molybdenum, phosphates, uranium, bauxite, gold, iron, mercury, nickel, potash, silver, tungsten, zinc, copper, natural gas, and timber”. These have been successfully exploited and united states have the most advance steel technologies in the world. In terms of non renewable resource, the country has made attempts in harnessing non-renewable resource like sun and wind energy. For example there have been attempts to produce sun powered motor vehicles. There is also development of technology to develop wind energy. Using vast water resource, hydroelectric energy has been the leading in lighting homes. The country has also made strides to increase energy output from nuclear energy. Majority of its military equipments including jet fighters are powered using nuclear energy although inhibitory legislation have limited full exploitation of nuclear energy. (Infoplease, 2001)
With a vast territory and about one-sixth population of the world, China is one of the countries in the world that is endowed with a lot of natural resources. The country water power resources have been ranked first in the world and it is also one of the countries in the world with diverse animal species abundant mineral resources. With vast mountainous regions and abundant wildlife with 9.8% of vertebrates in the world, tourism has become an important part of it economy in full exploitation of these resources. The water resources including rivers have been exploited for hydroelectric production which has supported growth of electric and inflow of foreign direct investment. The inland water system has been greatly utilized in short sea shipping.
China has not looked back in feeding its large population. Its land resources estimated at 10,000 hectares has been utilized in production of food corps like rice and other grains keeping their food important at minimum. Most of the cultivated land is plains and basins in the east of china where rice production is found. Forests in the mountainous region to the northeast and southwest are leading producer of timber. In terms of mineral resources, china has more than 171 kinds of minerals discovered and 158 kinds have shown increased reserves. Energy minerals which have been fully exploited include petroleum, natural gas, Coal and uranium which are used to lower the cost of industrial power. Metallic resources include iron, manganese, copper, aluminum, lead, zinc and others, while non-metallic reserves include graphite, phosphorous, sulfur and other. These mineral resources are fully exploitation an currently they account for 92% of energy supply, 80% of industrial raw materials, and 70% of means of agricultural production. Unlike United States which relies on imported energy, china has made strides towards industrial energy self sufficiency. There are attempts to increase energy production from nonrenewable resources like wind and solar although development are still going on. Nuclear energy has not been fully exploited. (Sustainable Development, 1997)
Taken as a whole continent Europe has a lot of natural resources but which are disproportional to individual countries. Being the first continent to industrialize, Europe has along history of exploration of natural resources although it has been seeking a vast of natural resources from other continents as well. In term of land resource, Europe is endowed with arable land but it has continued to import food crops growing in the tropical region including vegetables and fruits.
However agricultural resources have been fully utilized to enhance food supply. In term of natural minerals, Europe has reserves of minerals like natural gas, coal, petroleum, iron, lead, zinc, goal, tin, gypsum, gold, limestone, and others. The vast forest also supply more than one-sixth of the world timber with Serbia holding approximately one-fifth of the world timber. There are inland and offshore water masses which are fully utilized for short and long sea shipping. Inland water bodies have also been used in production of hydroelectricity for industry and home use. Some countries in Europe including Russia, UK and other have also developed nuclear power for industrial use. Development to harness wind and solar power are still going on and with the EU energy policy, non-renewable resources are likely to play a great part in the future energy supply in the continent. Unlike China and United States, Europe has come up with competitive policies leading to sustainable development in use of natural resource which has affect the way natural resources are used. (EUROPA, 2008)
Located in the Middle east, the country has a vast of mineral resource abut it short of other natural resources especially land and water. The climate of Iraq is mainly characterized by dessert with dry hot summers. The terrain is mostly broad plains with reedy marshes in the southern border but which has been destroyed. In terms of land resource, Iraq has only 12% arable land and 9% pastoral land. There is no permanently grown crop in Iraq which means the country import more than 90% of its food needs. The destruction of marsh areas in east of An Nasiriyah through diversion of the feeder streams has greatly hampered agricultural activities in the country leading to reduced food supply.
However the country is endowed with vast mineral resources including petroleum, natural gas, phosphate, and sulfur. Petroleum and natural gas has been the backbone of Iraq economy and for long time the country has been exchanging food with oil supplies to feed its population. Therefore unlike other countries which we have review above which have an almost balance natural resource inventory, Iraq is endowed in energy resource but greatly deficient in agriculture resources. Over the years, agricultural production in Iraq has been declining due to water restriction in Tigris and Euphrates rivers by Syria and Turkish dam. In term of non renewable resources, the country has not put in place concerted efforts to exploit these resources as it has enough supply of fossil energy. It is yet to develop nuclear power. (Geographic.org, 1999)
Natural resources play an important part in the economic growth of a country. As we have seen in our review, countries which have fully exploited their natural resource like China have recorded impressive growth. However a country like United States is still experience economic recession due to dependence on imported energy resource while it has vast amount of fossil fuel not exploited. A balanced inventory of natural resources and consequent exploitation is therefore important for economic development.
EUROPA (2008): Sustainable use of natural resource. European Union, 2008
Geographic.org (1999): Iraq Geography. Retrieved on 25th October 2008 from http://www.photius.com/wfb1999/iraq/iraq_geography.html
Infoplease, (2001): United States. Retrieved on 25th October 2008 from http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0108121.html
Sustainable Development (1997): Natural resource aspect of sustainable development in china. Retrieved on 25th October 2008 from http://www.un.org/esa/agenda21/natlinfo/countr/china/natur.htm
US Geological Survey, (2008): Natural Resource. Retrieved on 25th October 2008 from http://www.usgs.gov/themes/resource.html
Weintraub, A., Romero, C., Bjorndal, T., & Epstein, R. (2007): Handbook of operation research in natural resources. Springer Book