The people of Ecuador are going to the polls today, voting at the first general election after the constitutional court resolved the Democracy Code in 2012. This comes at an interesting time from a British perspective, as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange still calls London’s Ecuadorian embassy his home. Ecuadorians may care little about this international diplomacy row, and some may be more interested in issues regarding press freedom in their home country. But after many years of economic uncertainty and political instability following the collapse of the banking system in 1999, many other questions will rate far more important at these elections in a country that is extremely diverse for its size, not only in its nature, but also its population.
“Ecuador is a patchwork of indigenous communities, including people of colonial Spanish origins and the descendants of African slaves” (quoted from the BBC Country Profile Ecuador). For a country of only 283,561 sq km size (slightly smaller than Nevada, as the CIA World Factbook puts it), Ecuador has a remarkably diverse natural environment: The continental area stretches from the tropical rainforests in the east over the Andean highlands to the low lying coastal zone. And 1,000 km westwards off the coast the Galapagos Islands form the volcanic outpost of the country.
The population of over 15 million people is concentrated in two of these four major regions: ‘La Costa’ – the coastal region – is home to Ecuador’s largest city Guayaquil (2.3 million people), while the capital Quito (1.6 million people) is located in ‘La Sierra’ – the highlands at an elevation of over 2,800 m above sea level). Despite their high altitude, the Ecuadorian part of the Andes is home to a considerable population almost equal to the coastal areas. The less accessible rainforest region as well as the the Galapagos Islands in contrast are home to only small numbers of people.
The distribution of Ecuadors population is visualised in the following gridded population cartogram (a ‘cartograma cuadriculada de la población ‘ in Spanish), which is a much improved display compared to the original version of this map that I created in 2009 for the World Population Atlas. The improved resolution is made possible by using the LandScan population data which in this case provides a better estimate for the real distribution of people than the SEDAC GPWv3 data. The map shows an equal-sized grid over the land area of Ecuador resized according to the total number of people living in each of the grid cells, so that larger grid cells reflect higher numbers of people, while depopulated areas almost disappear from the map.
The green to brown colours in the map reflect the altitude of the areas, so that the coastal and mountainous regions are clearly distinguishable. The transitional zones of intermediate shadings (and elevations) almost disappear from this map, which shows the relatively small numbers of people living where relief gradients are steepest. The rainforest region (La Amazonía, or also El Oriente as it is situated in the east) which makes almost half of the land area, is equally underrepresented in this map, as it is home to less than 5% of the population. This is the human shape of Ecuador:
As diverse as its landscapes and natural environment is Ecuador’s population that is shown in this map. “Ecuador’s population is ethnically diverse. The largest ethnic group (as of 2010) is the Mestizos, the descendants of Spanish colonists and indigenous peoples, who constitute 71.9% of the population. Amerindians account for 7% of the current population. Afro-Ecuadorians, including Mulattos and zambos, are also a minority, largely based in Esmeraldas and Imbabura provinces, and make up around 7% of the population” (quoted from Wikipedia). And although there has been a high rate of emigration (read more details in the demographic profile on Wikipedia) following a severe period of economic decline in the 1990s, the overall population keeps steadily growing at over 200,000 people a year.
A look at the human geography of a country can teach us a lot about the human impact on our planet. In the most underrepresented areas in the population cartogram, population growth and in-migration pose the biggest threats, as these are also areas of the most unique biodiversity on the planet: The 25,000 people living on the Galapagos Islands, for example, are the most problematic invasive species and part of the central environmental issues of the Galapagos (though the temporary population, i.e. the tourists, pose equal threats). Read more about biodiversity hotspots at risk of human populations here: Biodiversity Hotspots – A World at Risk.
Copyright note for the LandScan population data: UT BATTELLE, LLC. Developed under Prime Contract No. DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the U.S. Department of Energy. The U.S. Government has certain rights herein.