The Least Densely Populated Countries

By Jason Shvili on May 18 2020 in Geography

Greenland is made up of large sheets of ice, and most residents live near the coast. Photo by Filip Gielda on Unsplash
Greenland is made up of large sheets of ice, and most residents live near the coast. Photo by Filip Gielda on Unsplash
  • Mongolia was the home of Genghis Khan, who once ruled over the Mongol empire, the largest land empire in history.
  • Nearly the entire area of the two main islands of the Falklands, outside of Stanley, is devoted to sheep farming.
  • Greenland's Inuit name is Kalaallit Nunaat

Some of the countries of the world are very densely populated, but there are others where there are just a handful of people per square kilometer. In fact, there are even countries that are so sparsely populated that there isn’t even one person per square kilometer. Sometimes it’s because although the country may be large, a significant part of it may be uninhabitable, or at least not very desirable for living. Here are the three least densely populated countries in the world. Let us examine how geographical and other factors influence their population densities. 

Mongolia 

Mongolia has a very sparse rural population, and the people who live on the plains reside in traditional dwellings called yurts.

The land of Genghis Khan is the third least densely populated country in the world. The country of Mongolia, consisting entirely of Outer Mongolia (Inner Mongolia is now under Chinese rule), is located in Northeast Asia and is sandwiched between Russia in the north and China in the south. It is fairly large but has a small population compared to countries of similar size. Roughly three-fourths of the country’s land is pastureland, hence the Mongolian tradition for keeping herds of grazing livestock. The rest of the country is equally divided between barren deserts and forests, so the Mongolians’ ability to plant crops is quite limited. There is a greater concentration of the population in the country's northcentral region, where the best pasturelands and croplands are located. Mongolia’s population was overwhelmingly composed of nomadic herders at the beginning of the 20th century, but now most of the country’s population is urban, though there is still a sizeable rural population.

Nearly one-third of the country’s population lives in rural areas, and it is in these areas where you will find many of the traditional Mongolian dwellings, known as yurts. The capital of Mongolia is Ulaanbaatar, with a population of over one million people, which translates into roughly two-fifths of the country’s total population. For most of the 20th century, the country was governed by a one-party communist dictatorship, but that regime came to its end in the early 1990s, and now, Mongolia is a parliamentary democracy. The Mongolian parliament is known as the Great Khural. The country’s population is relatively young, with over half of it made up of people aged 29 or younger.

Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands are rich in wildlife but not in people. Photo by Paul Carroll on Unsplash

The British colony of the Falkland Islands is the second least densely populated territory in the world. The islands are located off the coast of southern Argentina. They are also known as the Islas Malvinas in Spanish. In 1982, a conflict arose over the islands, as Argentina invaded the British territory on April 2nd of that year. In response, the British sent military forces to retake the islands, and by late June, the Falklands were back in British hands. The islands remain a focal point of dispute between Argentina and the U.K. to this day. The land area of the islands is almost equivalent to the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut. However, Connecticut contains more than three million people, and the Falklands have a population of just over three thousand, with most of them being of British descent.

About two-thirds of Falkland Islanders live in the capital, Stanley, which is also the territory’s main port. Outside of Stanley, most of the population is engaged in sheep farming. Efforts have been made, however, to diversify the economy, and the sale of fishing licenses is now a major source of revenue for the British colony. Licenses have also been issued to companies to explore the waters off of the islands, which could contain oil reserves. The tourism sector has also grown significantly in the past twenty years and has become another major sector of the economy. The Falklands have enjoyed sustained economic growth since the late 20th century.

Greenland

Welcome to the world’s largest island and the least densely populated territory on Earth. Greenland is not a country on its own, but rather an overseas territory controlled by the European nation of Denmark, though the island does now have a wide degree of autonomy. It is located between the eastern coast of northern Canada and the island nation of Iceland. The name, Greenland, is quite ironic since most of the landmass is covered not by greenery but by ice. In fact, Greenland’s ice sheet is second in size only to Antarctica’s. It covers over four-fifths of the island’s land area and is about 1,500 meters thick. The ice-free land is found on the coast, which is where most Greenlanders live.

Although controlled by Denmark, most of Greenland’s people are not Danish, but Inuit, which means that they share a common heritage with the Inuit of northern Canada. The Inuit name for Greenland is Kalaallit Nunaat. Like Mongolia, the people of Greenland are relatively young, with over 40% of them being aged 29 or younger. The island’s economy is overwhelmingly based on the fishing industry, but like the people of the Falklands, the Greenlanders have made efforts to diversify their economy, with great emphasis on the tourism industry. As a result, revenues from tourism have grown significantly.  

The Least Densely Populated Countries

RankCountryDensity (km²) Population 2020Area
1Greenland0/km²56,7702,166,086 km²
2Falkland Islands0/km²3,48012,173 km²
3Mongolia2/km²3,278,2901,564,110 km²
4Western Sahara2/km²597,339266,000 km²
5Namibia3/km²2,540,905825,615 km²
6Iceland3/km²341,243103,000 km²
7Australia3/km²25,499,8847,692,024 km²
8French Guiana4/km²298,68283,534 km²
9Suriname4/km²586,632163,820 km²
10Guyana4/km²786,552214,969 km²
11Canada4/km²37,742,1549,984,670 km²
12Libya4/km²6,871,2921,759,540 km²
13Botswana4/km²2,351,627582,000 km²
14Mauritania5/km²4,649,6581,030,700 km²
15Niue6/km²1,626260 km²
16Kazakhstan7/km²18,776,7072,724,900 km²
17Central African Republic8/km²4,829,767622,984 km²
18Gabon8/km²2,225,734267,668 km²
19Russia9/km²145,934,46217,098,242 km²
20Bolivia11/km²11,673,0211,098,581 km²
21Turkmenistan12/km²6,031,200488,100 km²
22Chad13/km²16,425,8641,284,000 km²
23New Caledonia15/km²285,49818,575 km²
24Republic Of The Congo16/km²5,518,087342,000 km²
25Saudi Arabia16/km²34,813,8712,149,690 km²
26Argentina16/km²45,195,7742,780,400 km²
27Mali16/km²20,250,8331,240,192 km²
28Finland16/km²5,540,720338,424 km²
29Oman16/km²5,106,626309,500 km²
30Norway17/km²5,421,241323,802 km²
31Belize17/km²397,62822,966 km²
32Paraguay18/km²7,132,538406,752 km²
33New Zealand18/km²4,822,233270,467 km²
34South Sudan18/km²11,193,725619,745 km²
35Algeria18/km²43,851,0442,381,741 km²
36Niger19/km²24,206,6441,267,000 km²
37Uruguay19/km²3,473,730181,034 km²
38Papua New Guinea19/km²8,947,024462,840 km²
39Bhutan20/km²771,60838,394 km²
40Sweden22/km²10,099,265450,295 km²
41Sudan23/km²43,849,2601,886,068 km²
42Solomon Islands24/km²686,88428,896 km²
43Saint Pierre And Miquelon24/km²5,794242 km²
44Zambia24/km²18,383,955752,612 km²
45Somalia25/km²15,893,222637,657 km²
46Brazil25/km²212,559,4178,515,767 km²
47Vanuatu25/km²307,14512,189 km²
48Chile25/km²19,116,201756,102 km²
49Peru26/km²32,971,8541,285,216 km²
50Angola26/km²32,866,2721,246,700 km²

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