Living Off the Earth

One of the most appreciative traits of rural communities is that they live off the earth; the use of natural resources, the methods of building using materials that are found around them and the need to effectively use for their food, clothes and equipment, what is naturally available to them.

The needs for a house to live in are numerable today. But primitive housing served to provide basic needs- security from intruders and animals, sleeping and living spaces and protection from the environment. Because of primitive man’s primary concern for shelter, the architecture was determined by the climate.[i]

An apt example of this is the construction of the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. A Pueblo is a Spanish term to describe the communities of South America. It was a unit of a settlement that was is a nucleated rural village. The demands of agrarian routine and the need for defence, the simple desire for human society in the vast solitude of, dictated that it should be surrounded by fields and separated by considerable distance from neighbours.[ii] The architecture used in the pueblo shows the influence of the climate and available resources.


The hot and dry climate of the desert scape required housing that was compact with minimum openings that were made of materials that would cool down the interiors. The Pueblo is made entirely out of adobe- a mixture of mud, water and straw made into bricks and sun dried. Thick walls are constructed and wood from mountain forests are hauled to the site to make door and window frames. Houses were built side by side with common walls. In earlier days, the houses were only accessed by a ladder through the roof for the sake of security.[iii]

In most cases, the architecture of a rural community is evident of the type of climate in the area and the available materials. Culture, family typology and anthropometrics were also factors that influenced rural architecture.

[i] House, Form and Culture – Amos Rappaport  [ii] Richard A. Fletcher  [iii] Taos Pueblo information


Rural Settlements

For the need of community, security and resources, people built their homes in close proximity to each other. This cluster of housing, the sustainable nature of the community and the sort of symbiotic relationship of the families formed a settlement. Rural settlements by definition is a community of people who live together in a rural area. They are made of dwellings grouped together and can include hamlets and villages.

There are many factors that aid in the formation and type of a settlement. Natural landscape determines the patterns of the housing cluster. For example, a mountain terrain or the banks of a river would result in a very different cluster pattern. The location of the settlement, the access to the site, climate of the area, the water sources and the nature of the soil are also key factors to the distribution of houses in a settlement.[i]


For the Indian context, rural settlements can be broadly classified into four types of dispersion.[ii]

  1. Compact Settlement: If the number of villages equals the number of hamlets in an area unit, the settlement is designated as compact. In such villages all the dwellings are concentrated in one central site. The inhabitants of the village live together and enjoy the benefits of community life. Such settlements range from a cluster of about thirty to hundreds of dwellings of different forms, sizes and functions.
  2. Semi-Compact Settlement: These are found both in plains and plateaus depending upon the environmental conditions prevailing there. The dwellings in such settlements are not very closely knitted and are huddled together at one common site. It covers more area than the compact settlements.
  3. Hamlet Settlement: The hamlets are spread over the area with intervening fields and the main or central settlement is either absent or has feeble influence upon others. Often the original site is not easily distinguishable and the morphological diversity is rarely noticed.
  4. Dispersed Settlement: The inhabitants of dispersed settlements live in isolated dwellings scattered in the cultivated fields. These dwellings are deprived of neighbourhood, communal interdependence and social interaction.

[i] Rural Settlements in India – Rashid Faridi  [ii] Four Types of Rural Settlements – Smriti Chand

For the People


Plans to bring about positive change in rural society, although highly noble, often fail because a wrong approach has been taken. Sometimes, various programmes and schemes are implemented into communities where a need for something else was greater. This error often happens in a fit of urgency when disaster occurs, but happens even in long term community work where ignorance is not an excuse.  [i] Educational aid is sent to places that are desperate for potable water and medical aid to those more in need of shelter. There is a simple solution to avoid being misguided and that is to fully understand the people in need of help.

In the rural setting, communities are varied. Within a radius of a few kilometres, it is possible to find significant differences in the way people of one village live to their neighbours. Traditions and cultures carried on for centuries are passed down generation to generation and lifestyles are deeply imbibed in the residents of a village settlement.

Understanding rural sociology is not a complicated tast. What are the key characteristics that drive a rural community? In India, these are some of the characteristics: [ii]

  1. Size – Rural communities are a lot smaller in comparison to those in an urban setting.
  2. Density – The low density allows people to have close relationships with all other residents.
  3. Occupation – For 70% of the world’s poor who live in rural areas, the occupation is agriculture.[iii]
  4. Nature – Their close connection with natural environment around them makes them dependant on nature for food, shelter and clothing.
  5. Homogeneity – Despite having differences, the people have some commonalities that bind them- religion, or language, or occupation.
  6. Social Stratification – In a village, traditionally the people are divided on the basis of caste.

In relation to income, living standards and technology, rural living seems very primitive. Yet, their ability to be a self-sustaining unit, having high community values with practices that very slowly fade with time, the structure of rural settlements is praiseworthy.


[i] Offering the Wrong Aid in Disaster – Shahanaaz Habib [ii] Rural Community – Puja Mondal [iii] World Bank – Agriculture and Rural Development

The Cost of Urbanization


The world population is vastly divided up on the basis of various factors. With the onset of urbanization in last few centuries, there was an influx of rural inhabitants to urban settlements. This division showed drastic differences in the urban and rural people – from their means of livelihood, their lifestyles, their sense of community and their infrastructure.

Despite the surge in development, the improved living conditions of the urban settlements failed to equally influence rural settlements. Consequently, a large gap between the standard of living of rural and urban dwellers is very evident.

For a clear understanding of the importance of rural settlements, the statistics are important to heed. In recent years, a historic change in urban population passed the half mark and now only 46.5% of the world’s population live in rural areas. But even with this transition, rural inhabitants are predominantly below the poverty line. About 70% of the world’s poor live in rural settlements.

In spite an overall decrease in developing world poverty percentages, there are still more than 2 billion people who live on less than 2 USD a day[I]. Out of the 1.4 billion in extreme poverty (less than 1.25 USD a day), 1 billion live are rural dwellers[II]. These figures are only very slowly improving and lots can be done in their aid.

Where does South Asia and specifically India stand in relation to these figures. Unfortunately, India is at the upper end of most affected developing countries. 20.6% of the world’s poor live in India[III]. 67.6% of India’s population live in rural areas[IV], over 80% of whom live on less than 2 USD a day.

These astonishing numbers only prove how slow the progress to stability in India is. There are so many questions are to be answered. Where do these people live? What is being done to help them? And most importantly, what more can be done?

[I] World Bank Poverty Review [II] IFAD Rural Poverty Report 2011 [III] Shawn Donnan- Financial Times, May 9 2014 [IV] Rural Population Data, World Bank