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LIFE IN THE TROPICS:A NEVER ENDING BATTLE WITH NATURE
vt.edu ^ | 1976 and 2002 ? | Kamarck

Posted on 12/08/2002 8:40:36 PM PST by dennisw

LIFE IN THE TROPICS:

A NEVER ENDING BATTLE WITH NATURE

Look at a world map. The region between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn is usually referred to as the tropics. The rest of the world, excluding the polar regions, is referred to as the temperate region. Now, look at your map with the two regions.

World Map

  • Where are the industrialized nations found?
  • Where are the developing countries found?
  • Are there any exceptions?
  • What do you suppose causes this distribution?
  • What is going on?

Life in the Tropics is much more difficult than life in temperate regions because the tropical environment is not conducive to economic development. Compared to the temperate zone, the effects of tropical climates:

  • Hinder agriculture
  • Hinder mineral exploration and exploitation

    Make the population less vigorous through disease, malnutrition, and possibly through the direct physiological impacts of temperature and humidity.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS HINDERING DEVELOPMENT

1. RAINFALL AND HEAT

Rainfall in the Tropics is usually too little, too much, or too late. Precipitation is not distributed uniformly throughout the year. There are usually distinct wet and dry seasons. Excessive precipitation and storms during the wet season often destroy crops. Even during the wet season, droughts are common.

Continuous heat and absence of frost mean that life and pest reproduction continues throughout the year. THE GREAT EXECUTIONER OF NATURE, WINTER IS ABSENT. Consequently, plant and animal pests and diseases reproduce throughout the year. There is intense ecological competition and only a few individuals of each species survive. Crops and animals developed for temperate region ecosystems do not do well for long. The intense ecological competition usually wipes non-indigious out after several generations.

The heat and humidity of the tropics are hard on machinery and well as humans. Machinery does not last nearly as long in the Tropics as in temperate regions due to rust and corrosion. The tropical sun (UV radiation) is rough on plastics, rubber, and synthetics. Multinational companies often leave their machinery behind after projects because they know that after a few years in the Tropics, it is probably not worth the cost of shipping it home. Consequently, tropical countries are littered with abandoned construction equipment.

2. SOILS

Tropical soils are among the poorest in the world with very low nutrient (particularly nitrogen) and organic matter contents. Almost all the nutrients in tropical ecosystems are tied up in the living vegetation. If the vegetation is removed due to harvesting (crops, timber, etc.), the nutrients are lost and productivity drops drastically. In contrast, most nutrients are found in the soil in temperate climates and soil nutrient levels are orders of magnitude higher.

When exposed to tropical sun and air, tropical soils (laterites) tend to harden and solidify and become impermeable and impossible to till. Alluvial and volcanic soils and soils at higher elevations in the Tropics are exceptions and may be very rich and fertile. The low nitrogen content of tropical soils results in low protein content in crops.

Shifting cultivation is the traditional method of agriculture in the tropics. Clear an area of the bush or jungle, burn the cleared vegetation (releasing nutrients) and farm the land for two to three years or until crop yields begin to fall. Then abandon the area and move to another. After 10 to 15 years, natural processes revegetate the land and restore the original productivity of the soil and previously farmed areas may be farmed again. This cycle was used successfully for thousands of years in the Tropics until colonial powers introduced commodity crops (coffee, cotton, peanuts, cocoa, etc.) that tend to deplete soil nutrients rapidly. In the past 50 years as populations have increased exponentially, land has become scarce and soils have been farmed more frequently. This depletes their fertility until crop production and natural revegetation is difficult or impossible. This process is out of control in the tropics today and as a result, desertification is spreading rapidly in tropical countries.

3. AGRICULTURAL ENEMIES

Agricultural pests and diseases are rampant in the tropics. Unfortunately, most research on plant and animal pests and diseases is conducted by scientists in industrialized countries in the temperate regions. The results of this research are rarely directly applicable to the tropics. Also, since tropical countries are generally poor and cannot afford many imports, private industry in the temperate regions rarely invests in research or produces pesticides and herbicides specifically tailored for tropical pests.

Pests and disease grow uncontrolled all year long (no winter). Locusts are endemic in many regions. Trypanosomiasis (tsetses fly) has prevented the introduction of draft and domesticated animals to central Africa. Only native wild animals are immune and they have not been successfully domesticated. Therefore, it is difficult to use animals for plowing or transportation. On a more positive note however, the Tsetse fly did protect central Africa from exploitation by Europeans to some extent.

4. MINERALS

Tropical soils are highly weathered and often, hundreds to thousands of meters deep. The thick soil layer makes it difficult to explore for minerals and expensive or impractical to extract them if found. In addition, most exploration equipment has been developed for temperate regions, which have relatively shallow soils. Consequently, the exploration equipment does not work as well in deep tropical soils. Because of depletion of economically recoverable minerals in temperate regions, however, better exploration equipment is being developed for tropical regions.

5. HEALTH HAZARDS

Tropical diseases: malaria, river blindness, parasitic worms, leprosy, cholera, Guinea worm, and others affect a large portion of the population in many tropical countries. Productivity is consequently reduced and people have a difficult time accumulating enough capital to develop. Combined with high population growth rates, this means that per capita income in many tropical countries is decreasing.

a. Malaria: More easily controlled in temperate regions because winter kills mosquito vectors (same with filariasis). Mosquito borne diseases have been largely controlled in the developed world. Malaria is believed to have been a factor in the decline of the Mesopotamian civilization and the Roman Empire.

b. River blindness (onchocerciasis): Causes partial or total loss of sight. Caused by a fly found throughout the world, but the parasite, which causes the disease, can reproduce only in warm tropical areas.

c. Parasitic worms: infect more than 500 million people in developing countries causing anemia, apathy, and in children mental and physical retardation.

d. Leprosy: Fairly rare except in the Tropics where frequent skin abrasions caused by innumerable insect bites are thought to promote it. Eleven million are infected in the Tropics.

e. Yellow and Dengue Fever: Yellow fever is one of the few tropical diseases which has been controlled. It was conquered because it became an obstacle to the United State's development and expansion at the beginning of the century (construction of the Panama Canal and the American occupation of Cuba). The mosquito which transmits yellow fever stops breeding when temperatures drop below 15 to 20 deg C so it is restricted to tropical regions.

For more details on the effects of the tropical environment on development, see:

Kamarck, A.M. 1976. The Tropics and economic development - A provocative inquiry into the poverty of nations. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Md. (ISBN 0-8018-1891-5)

 



TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; Free Republic; Front Page News; Government
KEYWORDS: climate; tropics

1 posted on 12/08/2002 8:40:36 PM PST by dennisw
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To: dennisw

2 posted on 12/08/2002 8:41:19 PM PST by dennisw
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To: dennisw
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0801818915/qid=1039407146/sr=1-4/ref=sr_1_4/002-0139752-7324836?v=glance&s=books#product-details
3 posted on 12/08/2002 8:42:23 PM PST by dennisw
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To: FreedomPoster
ping
4 posted on 12/08/2002 8:44:51 PM PST by dennisw
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To: dennisw
Would pre-Castro Cuba be an exception? How about Singapore? Generally, a good thought-provoking article. Thanks.
5 posted on 12/08/2002 10:13:19 PM PST by DeweyCA
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To: PoisedWoman
ping
6 posted on 12/08/2002 10:59:48 PM PST by I_Love_My_Husband
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To: dennisw
Interesting info.
7 posted on 12/08/2002 11:15:23 PM PST by doug from upland
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To: dennisw
On a more positive note however, the Tsetse fly did protect central Africa from exploitation by Europeans to some extent.

That's a good thing?

8 posted on 12/08/2002 11:29:35 PM PST by altair
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To: altair
I guess that depends on your point of view :)
9 posted on 12/09/2002 5:02:40 AM PST by Unassuaged
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To: dennisw
Life in the Tropics is much more difficult than life in temperate regions because the tropical environment is not conducive to economic development.

I think exactly the opposite is true. The better climate of tropical regions means that people can lounge around all day and pick fruit off of trees. Up in the temperate regions, people have to hustle to survive.

10 posted on 12/09/2002 6:37:32 AM PST by Stingray51
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To: I_Love_My_Husband
Where've you been, ILMH?

Life in the tropics is really very easy. In Tahiti, the natives boasted 24/7 that all they had to do was go fishing, pick fruit off trees, drink coconut milk, and basically party the rest of the time. Oh yeah, coconut palms also provide fronds to weave into baskets, roofs, mats, even siding for houses. How good can life get?
11 posted on 12/09/2002 11:11:17 AM PST by PoisedWoman
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To: dennisw
Bump
12 posted on 12/09/2002 11:13:38 AM PST by Fiddlstix
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To: dennisw
Gee, after reading this, it's a wonder why anyone would want to even set foot in the tropics..... Oh, wait... that's right, the ice and the umbrellas can only be found in the drinks served by pretty young ladies in bikinis and grass skirts (remind me to remember my weed wacker next time). I KNEW there was a reason...
13 posted on 12/09/2002 11:20:39 AM PST by Hatteras
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To: dennisw
I don't know why anyone would risk their health and wander off to a place infestd with such disease and treachery....

HELL ON EARTH

14 posted on 12/09/2002 11:26:58 AM PST by Hatteras
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To: dennisw
Well, life in the subtropics is not fun either. I mean my God, thousands of cars with NY plates driving into our beautiful state, fat pasty white women from Michigan on our beautiful white sand beaches, and of course getting change back from the grocery store and finding that damned Canuck coinage mixed in. We need help down here in Florida. Snow plows to scoop the fat women off our beaches at least, please.
15 posted on 12/09/2002 7:01:12 PM PST by Nuke'm Glowing
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To: Nuke'm Glowing
That should read:

"Please send us some snow plows to scoopt that fat women off of our beaches at least please."

These 18 hour days are killer...
16 posted on 12/09/2002 7:01:58 PM PST by Nuke'm Glowing
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To: Nuke'm Glowing
That is just why Florida is so good!

One freezy night each year to kill off the bugs, the rest of the time, Disney World.

17 posted on 12/10/2002 8:35:36 AM PST by crystalk
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To: crystalk
"One freezy night each year to kill off the bugs, the rest of the time, Disney World"

Gee I was wondering why my Dad wanted to move to Florida, Now I know!!!!!!
18 posted on 12/10/2002 11:07:12 AM PST by Mr. C
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To: Stingray51
TIC here......Is that why those Northerners are always attacking those Southerners????? Nam, Korea,U.S. ;^)
19 posted on 12/10/2002 11:17:33 AM PST by litehaus
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To: Mr. C
LOL, it's why the entire Midwest and Northeast is moving here.
20 posted on 12/10/2002 2:27:23 PM PST by Nuke'm Glowing
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To: dennisw
Interesting read D.
The ancient populations in the tropics appeared to grow until they crashed the system.
Now we see thier temples are ponder why.
I'm sure they were very intune with their world..and they still crashed it....wonder if we will do the same?
21 posted on 12/12/2002 2:12:23 PM PST by Light Speed
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