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Explaining Economic Geography
Brazil Case Study

Patterns of Density and Distribution in an ELDC: case study Brazil


Patterns of density and distribution within an ELDC

For this section, I have decided to look at the case study of Brazil. Brazil is an Economically Less Developed Country and has a distinguished pattern of population distribution.

What are the patterns?

  • Over 90% of Brazilians live in a discontinuous strip of about 500k wide, adjacent to the east coast. This strip is less than a quarter of the size of the whole country.
  • The density of population fades the more north-west you go and in some areas it is hardly permanently populated at all.
  • The west of the Country is tropical rainforest whilst the eastern parts increase with population density as you reach the coastal areas.
  • There are two anomalies to the pattern, the settlements of Manaus and Carajas.
  • The North East, central-eastern and the South East are centres of large settlements.

What are the causes to these patterns?

  • Land inward of the coast (east of central Brazil) is often prone to drought. Combined with its high temperatures and poor soils, it makes this area unsuitable for growing high-yielding crops or rearing livestock.
  • Low in minerals and energy
  • Poor communications
  • Basic services such as health, water, education and electricity are lacking.
  • High birth rates (often more than 10 babies to a mother) there is rapid out-migration to the eastern areas on the coast.
  • High Infant Mortality and lowlife expectancy.


  • The western areas are largely tropical rainforest and drained by the river Amazon and its tributaries. There is frequent flooding making I hard to establish settlement.
  • The climate is wet, hot and humid and there is a high incidence of disease.
  • Forest clearance has made the once fertile soils infertile as the intense and frequent rainfall has leached the soil of its nutrients.
  • Land communications are difficult to build and to maintain.
  • There is a lack of political stewardship and the area has suffered from a lack of investment.


  • Manaus is situated centrally in the northern part of the country.
  • The Portuguese established it as a trading post and its development was influenced by two different economic periods. The first, was associated with the rubber boom at the turn of the 19th century whilst the second during the 1980s after the advent of tourism and declaration of it being a free port (open to all countries for free trade).
  • The second anomaly is the settlement of Carajas, this exploded after the find of a rich treasure of resources (iron ore) and energy (hydro-electricity).


  • The more easterly parts of Brazil (south-east  - but away from the coast) are moderately populated.
  • The plateau aids settlement.
  • Cooler climate than the rainforest and is fertile in soils (weathered volcanic soils) ideal for growing coffee.
  • Home to precious minerals.
  • Irregular rainfall leading to drought
  • Limited communications.
  • Federal investment insufficient to stimulate population growth.  


  • By the Coast there are the heavily populated areas of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.  The East Coast in fact has the highest population densities at 50 people/km.
  • The Coastal areas are hot and humid although there is sufficient water supply.
  • Several Natural harbours provide ports and encourage trade and industry to grow within this region. Subsequently, this encourages migration of people in search of work and labour.
  • These areas receive economic investment, especially from the tourist trade.
  • Sao Paolo is the second fastest growing city in the world. It was established as a result of the rich fertile soils ideal for coffee cultivation, the access to minerals such as iron ore and its supply of energy enabling economic activity to flourish.
  • There are high levels of economic investment and this has led to a good development of communications and provisions of modern services.


  • The North East of Brazil is a recent growth pole, based on the discovery of mineral deposits (iron, bauxite) and the construction of energy resources in the form of hydro-electric power stations.
  • Brasilia is a very new city in modern day terms (1960) and was built by the Brazilian government to redress the centre-east power, population and economic imbalance.

It is important to acknowledge that there are both human and physical factors to why the population of Brazil is distributed in the way that it is. The physical factors are due to the differences in environments (and continentality) which enable human settlement and also due to the mineral and energy distributions that aid settlements. The human factors are due to employment and tourism but also due to government decisions on how to aid a city or even to the extreme of creating a new city to redress population distributions domestically. The physical ractors are usually the reson to high population densities whilst the human factors are the explainations to such figures.