A village of a hill image credit audleytravel.com

A village of a hill image credit audleytravel.com

ZIMSEC O Level Geography Notes: Population and Settlement:Factors influencing the siting and location of settlements

  • Several factors influence the location of settlements
  • These can be divided into four:
  • historical factors
  • accessibility
  • availability of resources; and
  • human preferences and available technology

Historical Factors

  • Include historical considerations including the desire to build settlements on defensive grounds.
  • Factors of legislation and land tenure also affect the position of present settlement patterns and their locations.
  • For example most settlements were located on higher ground which was easier to defend.
  • Higher ground also meant enemies could be seen while they were still far off.
  • This explains settlements like Great Zimbabwe, Khami and Nyanga hill sites.
  • In European settlements river bends and pronounced meanders formed important settlements as they were favored as defensive sites.
  • Also European settlements often align themselves with the ancient feudal systems of Europe.
  • Much of the settlement in Zimbabwe especially in communal areas are hugely influenced by the Land Apportionment Act of 1930.
  • The linear settlement pattern often found in communal areas was a result of planned and legislated land settlement patterns.


  • The need to communicate with other areas for trade and travel purposes is another important factor that influences settlement patterns.
  • Settlements are often located along transport routes and communication lines.
  • These may be roads, railway lines or water routes.
  • Such settlements are also known as Nodal settlements
  • Nodal settlements-these are settlements that converge along roads, railway lines, water routes, mountain passes, gaps river confluences and valleys.
  • Nodal settlements are heavily influenced by communication networks.

Availability of resources

Hwange is mostily a coal town. Image credit sundaynews.co.zw

Hwange is mostly a coal town. Image credit sundaynews.co.zw

  • A lot of settlements are located near natural resources that are necessary for people’s livelihood.
  • For example water, minerals, wood, fertile soil and grass.
  • Water is a very important resource that attracts settlement.
  • It is used for domestic/irrigation purposes, pastoral activities and in some cases where the river is navigable, for transport purposes.
  • Settlements also occur along springs.
  • Settlements can also occur as a result of a combination of these resources for example water and fertile lands for farming villages and towns.
  • Settlements can also be attracted by forests and mountain areas where there is plentiful wood to be used as a fuel.
  • Minerals such as asbestos have acted as a catalyst towards the formation of towns like Zvishavane and coal in Hwange.

Human preferences and the influence of technology

  • Most barriers that prevented settlements from being built in certain areas have since been overcome.
  • Settlements are now being built in areas previously marginalized.
  • For example settlements are now being built even on steep slope using landscaping.
  • Settlements are now being planned according to human preferences and desires.
  • For example most land use patterns in resettlement areas are a result of deliberate human planning more than anything else.
  • Urban area settlements are always planned although spontaneous settlements, which are usually illegal, often sprout out for example Epworth and Hopely farm.

To access more topics go to the Geography Notes page.