According to the World Bank, Australia has a population density of 3 people per square kilometre. This is comparable to Libya and Mongolia, two countries that are also mostly desert. The population density of the US is 35, China 145 and the UK 267.

Yesterday in Sydney was the 21st day of temperatures above 27 degrees Celsius (81 Fahrenheit), easily a record for the time of year. This temperature is near the coast; in the west of the city it is 5-6 degrees hotter. And there is still more to come.

But in fact all of Australia is hot at this time of year, as can be seen in the image below, which shows yesterday’s temperatures.


Image Courtesy Australian Bureau of Meteorology

And this image shows world temperatures for yesterday. Australia is easily the hottest continent.


Image Courtesy Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Most of Australia has a higher level of evaporation than of rainfall. Thus, most rivers only flow occasionally, as the rain often evaporates before it reaches streams and rivers. The average rainfall for all of Australia in 2015 was 443mm. And much of that fell in the tropical North during the monsoon season. The image below shows the parts of Australia that are currently in drought conditions.


Image Courtesy Australian Bureau of Meteorology

The heat and lack of water make most of the continent uninhabitable. The vast majority of the population live on the coast at locations where there is adequate water. Even then, regular droughts put severe stress on water supplies.  This is why the Australian population is so low. The population increased by about 300,000 people over the past year, evenly spread between natural growth and immigration.  While Australia could support considerably more than 24 million people, it will never rival Europe or the US in population density.

This low, scattered population hampers Australia’s economic development. Virtually all manufactured or processed goods are imported. And it helps explain why commodities such as iron ore, wheat and beef are shipped to other countries for processing.