Dubai is a thriving settlement in the midst of the desert. image credit

Dubai is a thriving settlement in the midst of the desert. image credit

ZIMSEC O Level Geography Notes: Population:Factors affecting population distribution/density

Physical/Natural factors


  • A lot of people prefer to live in areas of moderate to cool temperatures
  • In places that receive a high amount of rainfall
  • Coastal plains and interior plateaus where crops grow well, animals can be reared and raw materials for industries can be found tend to have high population densities
  • Transport networks are easy to build due to gentle and undulating landscape
  • Areas that experience extremely low or high temperatures tend to be sparsely populated
  • for example hot deserts and tundra regions such as Siberia
  • Areas with low rainfall( arid and semi arid areas) also have very low population densities for example the Sahara desert


  • Mountains, steep areas and escarpments tend to have low population densities as it is difficult to build settlements in these areas and to establish transport networks
  • The soils tend to be thing and they climates harsh and unsuitable for most human activities including farming
  • Flat low lying areas such as coastal plains, river basins and plateau areas tend to have high population densities
  • River valleys also tend to have fertile alluvial soils, water and its easier to build transport networks in these areas
  • Low altitude areas tend to have less population densities as they are usually hot and disease infested while high altitude areas have cool disease free climates which favor high population densities
  • The highlands in Zimbabwe have a high population densities while the lowveld has a low population density


  • Areas with large mineral deposits attract large populations
  • For example Johannesburg and Transvaal in South Africa attracted large populations due to the lure of instant riches brought by the available minerals
  • When the minerals are exhausted these areas remain as ghost towns
  • Examples of ghost towns are Inyati mine and Kamative mines in Zimbabwe


  • Disease free areas such as Zimbabwe’s High-veld tend to be densely populated
  • Disease infested areas such as the low-veld have low population densities
  • Disease like malaria, cholera, nagana, sleeping sickness discourage human settlement


  • Areas with rich fertile soils that favour agriculture tend to have high population densities
  • For example Zimbabwe’s high veld
  • Areas that have infertile soils tend to have low population densities

Natural resources

  • Natural resources such as oil and coal attract people to settle even in areas with harsh climates where they would never settle

Human factors


  • Infrastructures such as roads, railway lines, harbors and airports make areas accessible and
  • attract people to settle in the accessible areas from the remote areas
  • Remote places tend to be thus sparsely populated

Economic development

  • Industrial sites attract high population densities as people seek work and look for goods to buy
  • Industrial sites also attract ancillary services such as schools, shops, hospitals and other institutions
  • These attracts more people and thus increases the population densities
  • For example urban areas such as Harare, Gweru, Bulawayo, Johannesburg and New York tend to have very high population densities

Employment opportunities

  • The availability of jobs in an area tends to attract people to settle in an area

To access more topics go to the Geography Notes page.