Asia: Resources

Asia: Resources

Asia’s resources have a formidable impact on global economic growth.


5 - 12+


Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography, Social Studies, Economics, Health, Earth Science, Engineering, Geology, Meteorology

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Asia is the largest of the world’s continents, covering approximately 30 percent of the Earth’s land area. It is also the world’s most populous continent, with roughly 60 percent of the total population.

Asia makes up the eastern portion of the Eurasian supercontinent; Europe occupies the western portion. The border between the two continents is debated. However, geographers often define Asia’s western border as an indirect line that follows the Ural Mountains, the Caucasus Mountains, and the Caspian and Black seas. Asia is bordered by the Arctic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

The geographic term “Asia” was originally used by ancient Greeks to describe the civilizations east of their empire. Ancient Asian peoples, however, saw themselves as a varied and diverse mix of cultures—not a collective group. The term “Asia” is used as a cultural concept, while subregion classifications describe the distinct geopolitical identities of the continent. These classifications are Western Asia, Central Asia, Southern Asia, Eastern Asia, and Southeastern Asia.

Today, Asia is home to the citizens of Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Cyprus, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen.

Asia’s physical geography, environment and resources, and human geography can be considered separately.

The impact of Asia’s resources on global economic growth is formidable. Asian countries rank as some of the top producers of many agricultural, forest, fishing, mining, and industrial products. This increased production has brought both extreme wealth and negative environmental impacts to the continent.

Climate and Agriculture

Asia’s vast area allows for varied and extreme climates. It has some of the coldest, hottest, wettest, and driest places on Earth. While many distinct climates exist across the continent, Asia’s climate can be most generally divided into three zones: north/central, southwest, and southeast.

The continent’s north/central zone is affected by cold and dry Arctic winds, especially the Siberia region of Russia. Hardier grains, such as barley, buckwheat, millet, oats, and wheat, are grown in the central and southern areas of this zone, where permanent frosts have historically inhibited plant growth. Animal husbandry is also very important in this zone. In Mongolia, for example, 75 percent of agricultural land is allocated to the rearing of livestock, such as sheep, goats, and cattle.

The southwest zone is a dry, hot region that stretches from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia through Pakistan, Iran, and into the Arabian Peninsula. This zone has very few areas with enough moisture and precipitation to produce crops. Grains, such as barley and corn, are the principal irrigated crops of some countries. A lack of pastureland suitable for grains, however, means heat-resistant vegetables and fruits, such as dates, figs, apricots, olives, onions, grapes, and cherries, are also widely grown in this zone.

The southeast zone is greatly affected by the summer monsoon season. During this season, a low-pressure system south of the Himalayas attracts moisture-laden winds from the Indian Ocean. The Himalayas push these winds up, causing clouds and precipitation to form at a rapid rate. As a result, areas of Southeast Asia are some of the wettest places on Earth and can see more than 254 centimeters (100 inches) of rain annually.

The high temperatures and precipitation levels of Southeast Asia are the perfect conditions for the production of rice and tropical fruits. Rice is one of Asia’s most important agricultural commodities and a major food staple of the entire continent. World rice production was estimated at 503 million metric tons in 2022-2023, with roughly 90 percent of total global rice production and global rice consumption occuring in Asia. As a result, the majority of Asia’s rice stays within the region.

Southeast Asia is also a major producer of tropical fruits, such as mango, papaya, and pineapple. India is the world’s largest mango-producing nation, accounting for nearly half of global mango production in 2020. Thailand, Indonesia, India, and the Philippines are the region’s major producers of pineapple.

A changing climate and other factors continue to impact Asia’s agricultural resources. For example, permafrost thaw is altering agricultural conditions in Siberia, while in Mongolia, overgrazing and hotter summers have resulted in massive land degradation that impacts livestock.

Forestry and Fishing

Forestry, the management of trees and other vegetation in forests, is an important but threatened industry in a select group of Asian countries. Russia and China alone accounted for 25 percent of the world’s forest cover in 2020. Indonesia is home to the world’s third largest tropical forest area.

China is a major exporter of wood products, ranking first globally in 2021 for wood furniture exports. Both Indonesia and Malaysia are top producers of tropical timbers, such as teak, primarily used in high-quality furniture and flooring.

During the past 10 years, Asia has increased its forest cover by 30 million hectares (74 million acres) to create forest plantations where trees can be intensively managed for higher-yield production. The timber industry estimates that Asia will produce roughly 45 percent of wood from forest plantations by 2020. These plantations will become increasingly important as natural forest resources continue to be depleted.

External and internal pressures, however, threaten Asia’s timber industry. Rapidly rising populations have dramatically increased demand for forest products. While more of Asia’s forests have come under environmental protection, lenient legislation and enforcement has allowed illegal logging and timber smuggling to flourish. This is especially true in Southeast Asia, where high-value species are found. As a result, Asian countries have experienced severe deforestation.

Threatened by deforestation, the region is working to slow the rate of forest loss. From 2010-2020, Asia had the highest net gain in forest cover of all regions. Indonesia, China, and Malaysia each saw significant progress in reducing the rate of deforestation as of 2022. Forest plantations, where trees can be intensively managed for higher-yield production, are seen as increasingly important as natural forest resources continue to be depleted.

Asia represents the most important region for fisheries and aquaculture production in the world. China was the world’s largest seafood producer in 2020, followed by India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Aquaculture, the rearing of fish and other aquatic animals in controlled environments, accounted for nearly half of the global fish supply in 2020. In that year, Asia produced more than 90 percent of the world’s aquatic animals and algae.

Seafood consumption is extremely important to the lifestyle of many Asian peoples. A 2010 study by the National Geographic Society placed China and Japan as the world’s leading consumers of seafood, at roughly 694 million and 582 million metric tons (765 million and 641 million tons) annually. Emphasizing that each fish species impacts the marine environment differently, the study measured each country’s “seafood print” based on the quantities and types of fish consumed. While Japan eats larger, higher-quality fish, China’s massive population is consuming smaller fish at a much higher rate. This is because China, along with many countries in Southeast Asia, is experiencing a rapid expansion of its middle class population. More people can afford expensive food.

Mining and Drilling

Extractive activities are an important part of the economies of many Asian countries. China, India, Russia, and Indonesia are the continent’s most productive mining economies. These countries extract many of the same minerals.

India is also a major producer of iron ore, along with other minerals such as barite (used in drilling fluids), chromite (used in steel production and dyes), and manganese (used in steel production). Russia is a major producer of tungsten (used in steel production), diamonds, iron, and steel. Indonesia is a major producer of copper and tin.

Countries on the Arabian Peninsula have some of the world’s largest deposits of oil and natural gas. These fossil fuels are drilled for energy and fuel, and make the region one of the most important in the international economy. The oil found throughout the Arabian Peninsula and Middle East includes high quality, light sweet crude. Light sweet crude oil is used to make gasoline, kerosene, and diesel fuels, and is in constant demand throughout the industrialized world.

Saudi Arabia was the world’s largest exporter of crude oil in 2022. Saudi Arabia’s economy is heavily dependent on oil exports, which account for about 70-85 percent of its export earnings and 50 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

Another major player in Asia’s liquid fuels industry is Russia. Russia has oil reserves in Siberia, and massive natural gas reserves throughout the Arctic. Russia is the world’s second largest producer of natural gas, and the second largest supplier of natural gas to Europe in 2022. Russia has not aggressively drilled in the Arctic Ocean, but engineers say the area holds millions of barrels of oil and gas reserves.

The Built Environment

Asia contains some of the most populated and fastest-growing cities of the world. As of 2020, Tokyo, Japan, Delhi, India, and Shanghai, China were the most populated cities in the world. Cities such as Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Delhi, India, are growing rapidly.

A surge of economic investment, primarily funded by the oil, technology, and pharmaceutical industries, has fueled the development of cities such as Hyderabad, India, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, into major metropolitan areas.

Hyderabad, India, the capital city of the state of Andhra Pradesh, grew from a population of more than 7.5 million people in 2010 to roughly 10 million people in 2020. Nicknamed “Cyberabad,” the city has developed into one of the world’s major hubs for information technology, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical production. Hyderabad has aggressively promoted its skilled labor force and cheap investment opportunities. In fact, the city inaugurated a township known as HITEC City in 1998 in order to attract international IT firms. HITEC hosts offices from an array of national and international IT companies, including Oracle Corporation, General Electric, and Microsoft. Microsoft’s largest research and development campus outside the United States is in the HITEC complex.

Hyderabad has also invested extensively in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Biotechnology is the manipulation of living things to produce useful products, such as changing genetic material to create medicines. Much like HITEC City, Hyderabad’s Genome Valley is a large campus of facilities that houses more than 200 companies in sectors including pharma and biotech, including Novartis, Ferring Pharma, and DuPont. The city has also developed campuses for the study of nanotechnology and the manufacturing of advanced semiconductors and solar technologies. This aggressive investment in high-tech industries will most likely continue to bring revenue and jobs into the city. As a result, Hyderabad must deal with a swelling population in need of more goods and services well into the future.

Dubai is one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). An emirate is a political territory that is ruled by a Muslim monarch called an emir. Dubai’s population has grown rapidly from roughly 1.9 million people in 2010 to 2.9 million in 2020 as a result of intense economic growth.

Urban infrastructure in Dubai has expanded at a rapid rate. Dubai has the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which stands at slightly more than 828 meters (2,700 feet)—almost a kilometer tall. The city’s Persian Gulf coast is the site of the Palm Jumeirah, an artificial island shaped like a palm tree. Since construction began in 2001, the Palm Jumeirah has transformed into the site of luxury hotels and residences, estimated to be home to nearly 80,000 people. The city’s transportation infrastructure is also expanding rapidly. The Dubai Metro system is the first urban train network on the Arabian Peninsula.

Dubai’s rapid growth, warm climate, and luxurious lifestyle have attracted many foreigners to the city. Dubai was the 7th most-visited city in the world in 2018. It has been called the “shopping capital of the Middle East,” as well as the “Expat Capital of the World” because of the foreign majority that lives in the city. In 2023, more than 68 percent of the United Arab Emirate's population is male, represented mostly by laborers from countries such as India, Pakistan, and the Philippines who work in Dubai’s construction business. The laborers’ poor working and living conditions have come under criticism from the international community, especially in contrast to the city’s image as a luxury capital of the world.

Asia has a number of state-of-the-art engineering marvels that solve complex infrastructural problems. China’s Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest hydroelectric power station. The dam stands at 185 meters (607 feet) high and stretches for 2,335 meters (7,660 feet) across the Yangtze River. It supplies millions of homes, businesses, hospitals, and schools with safe, affordable electricity.

The massive project, however, has had a devastating effect on the human and natural environment. The damming of the Yangtze River created a reservoir that flooded 632 square kilometers (244 square miles), taking out hundreds of towns and villages and displacing more than 1.2 million people. It submerged hundreds of factories, mines, and waste dumps, allowing industrial pollutants and garbage to enter the reservoir. The reservoir has also threatened the habitats of birds, fish, and other wildlife populations.

The Jamnagar Refinery in Gujarat, India, is the world’s largest oil refinery. An oil refinery is a factory where crude oil is processed and refined into useful products, such as gasoline, kerosene, and diesel oil. Referred to as the “Refining Capital of the World,” Jamnagar has a refining capacity of 1.24 million barrels of oil per day. The factory covers an area larger than the city of London, England.

Japan’s Shinkansen train network is one of the world’s fastest high-speed railway lines. The so-called “bullet trains” can reach speeds of 320 kilometers per hour (199 miles per hour). Shinkansen links most major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu. The Tōkaidō line, which connects Tokyo and Osaka, is the world’s busiest high-speed rail line. Since the railway lines were laid in the mid-1960s, it has transported roughly 6.4 billion people.

The Baikonur Cosmodrome is the world’s first and largest spaceport. The facility opened in the late 1950s, when the steppes of Central Asia were part of the Soviet Union. The world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched from Baikonur in 1957, and the first spacecraft to carry a person into orbit (Vostok 1, carrying Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin) was launched in 1961. The Baikonur Cosmodrome is in southern Kazakhstan, although it is leased to and maintained by Russia. The state-of-the-art facility allows for the launch of both manned and unmanned spacecraft, and is vital to the support and maintenance of the International Space Station (ISS).

Fast Fact

Highest Elevation
Mount Everest (called Chomolungma in Tibetan), Nepal: 8,848 meters/29,029 feet

Fast Fact

Most Renewable Electricity Produced
Bhutan (99.9%, hydropower)

Fast Fact

Largest Urban Area
Tokyo-Yokohama, Japan (38.2 million people)

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Diane Boudreau
Melissa McDaniel
Erin Sprout
Andrew Turgeon
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society
Tim Gunther, Illustrator
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West
Educator Reviewer
Nancy Wynne
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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