What it means to have 1.2 billion people in India

Okay, so I knew, from a prior posting, that India has a huge population, and that it will pass China as the most populated nation around 2030.  By most estimates I’ve seen, India has 1.2 billion people.  But I never thought in concrete terms before about where those 1.2 billion people are located.

This article from the New York Times from September 10 caught my eye because I’ll be teaching about caste later in the year, and because I thought the photo was cool:

Regular readers of this blog (hi Wendy and Ken) will be able to predict what I did next… Yes, I looked up Chennai on Google Earth, because I had no idea where it was located.  When I looked it up, I found that there are many many many many red dots — each representing large cities — around Chennai.

This Google Earth view helped me see that India is more densely populated than China.  Fitting 1.2 billion people into India is much harder than fitting 1.3 billion into China, because India’s area is smaller than China’s.  In fact, it’s about three times smaller: India is 1,269,210 square miles, while China is 3,696,100 square miles (numbers from Wikipedia).

Because of its geography, I knew that most of China’s population is crammed onto its coast.  When I went to Google Images to look for a map that showed China’s population density along the coast, I found something even better:

As so often happens with the internet, there are interesting connections if you look for them.  My search for a China population map led me to the map, circled above, which helpfully compares the distribution of population in India and China:

Going back to Google Earth, I wondered what that winding river was just north of Chennai.  In looking up Chennai, I learned that it used to be called Madras, and that the northern river is called the Cooum River:

As you can see from my orange circles and notes above, I also poked around and learned that there’s a huge beach that runs along the coast of Chennai.  I was intrigued also by the large sports arena, and I learned that it’s a cricket stadium (and it’s bigger than the Colosseum in Rome).

When I zoomed out a bit, I learned that Chennai is bounded by the Cooum River in the north and the Adyar River in the south.  I also learned from the Wikipedia article about Chennai that the “Adyar and Cooum rivers are heavily polluted with effluents and waste from domestic and commercial  sources. The state government periodically removes silt and pollution from the Adyar river, which is much less polluted than  the Cooum.”

As India (and China) industrialize, issues such as clean water, clean air, energy, and pollution will become critically important.  The world can’t support 2.5 billion people living like Americans.  Imagine if everyone in China and India suddenly had a car, for example.  Hmmm… I wonder how many people in India and China today have cars.  I know that some people in China who have cars are glad they were not involved in the 10-day traffic jam outside of Beijing.

Oh, and as for the original New York Times article about how caste is becoming less relevant in southern India, that’s pretty interesting too.  But I’ll leave you to read about that on your own.


About Steve Goldberg

I teach U.S. History at Research Triangle High School, a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning.
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2 Responses to What it means to have 1.2 billion people in India

  1. Dad says:

    Perhaps you could compare the population density in Kibera to heavily populated areas in China and India (and the most dense areas in the US). Also compare their problems.
    My quick calculation has about 1,000 or more people per acre in Kibera which is quite amazing (bad).

  2. kr says:

    among the top 50 most populated cities, Chennai is 35, but is the smallest at 170 sq.km. That puts the population density of Chennai at 27000 people/sq.km!

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