A scarcity of resources can be caused by a number of natural or manmade processes depending on the type of resource in question and what uses it has. The scarcity of certain natural resources in select parts of the globe are usually attributed to geological or biological processes in nature that preclude their production, or over use by local populations as time passes. Limitations in the availability of economic goods can also be traced to a scarcity of resources produced by social and political conditions such as a lack of adequate labor, education, or advanced technology among the population.
Research has shown that less advanced societies are often more directly dependent on abundant natural resources than advanced ones. This is due to the fact that the economies of advanced societies have large components which require minimum natural resources to function and generate income, such as the service sector and information-based industries like telecommunications, software development, and the financial industry. Developing nations on the other hand often rely heavily on natural resources from mining, forestry, and fishing. As a population grows, scarce resources can occur in these arenas when natural processes are slower to replace them than the local human population is to harvest them.
Economic problems are tied to a scarcity of resources due to how these resources are valued globally. Raw materials harvested from nature tend to have a low value per unit as compared to the products from which they are manufactured, and this can perpetuate a cycle of stagnation in developing nations. Since many developing nations acquire over 50% of their export earnings from basic commodities, the cash flow into such nations tends to be insufficient to fund education and technological growth. Such societies can experience a downward cycle of increasing scarcity, as their resource base is slowly degraded when it is used excessively to raise cash and meet more than the needs of just the local population.
Other factors that can contribute to resource scarcity include climate change, which affects agricultural production and fish populations, and conflict both internally and between bordering states over the exploitation of shared resources such as petroleum reserves. A 2010 analysis on the scarcity of resources by the Center on International Cooperation at New York University in the US found that population growth is putting an increasing demand on fundamental resources for the production of economic goods. These include fresh water, arable land, and widely-used energy sources such as petroleum.
Since population growth tends to be the highest in developing nations which have few resources to begin with such as Pakistan and Kenya, as the population expands, deprivation increases and the political systems designed to deal with it become increasingly unstable. Regions of the globe such as the Middle East and North Africa which are also experiencing rapid population growth are facing increasingly scarce resources such as that of fresh water, which must be equitably shared across borders for both agricultural, residential, and industrial uses. The Middle East and North Africa saw its population increase by over 200% from 1970 to 2001 when an additional 213,000,000 people were added to a previous 173,000,000.
In most natural environments, the availability of resources is balanced against the needs of local indigenous life. Human society, however, has altered this balance through international trade, by making the resource base of small regions one that must supply much larger populations. When a coastal nation, for example, relies on the local fish population for export profits, it can result in harvesting local fisheries far beyond their natural ability to replenish themselves. Similar conditions occur with mineral and energy deposits and forestry products. The scarcity of resources, therefore, is a global problem exacerbated by trade policies and economic inequity between nations that must be resolved through international cooperation if any lasting changes are to take place.