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Key findings
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) of Ghanaians say pollution is a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem in their community.
  • Ghanaians overwhelmingly (82%) say the government should be doing more to limit pollution and protect the environment, including 72% who say it needs to do “much more.”
  • Only 39% of Ghanaians say the benefits of natural resource extraction, such as jobs and revenue, outweigh negative impacts such as pollution.
  • And most (85%) want the government to regulate natural resource extraction more tightly in order to reduce its negative impacts on the environment.

Formerly known as the Gold Coast, Ghana has a diverse climate and geography that support a wide range of natural resources, including minerals (such as gold, diamonds, bauxite, manganese, and lithium), oil and gas, timber, and fertile land for agriculture, making the environment and natural resources crucial to its people (Aboka, Jerry, & Dzigbodi, 2018; Citi Newsroom, 2022).

While the exploitation of these resources has been a key driver of economic growth and development, Ghana’s over-reliance on natural resources affects the environment and the well-being of local communities. The World Bank (2020a) estimated the cost of environmental degradation at U.S. $6.3 billion for 2017, equivalent to 10.7% of gross domestic product. Specifically, the country is threatened by air and water pollution, unregulated gold mining, unmanaged solid waste, deforestation, and contaminated sites that release hazardous chemicals and affect health and hygiene (Srivastava & Pawlowska, 2020).

One pressing environmental issue in Ghana is galamsey (illegal mining), whose use of dangerous chemicals and poor waste-management practices have caused water pollution and soil contamination that pose health risks to nearby communities and water production (Africa Report, 2023).

Growing concern among policy actors and donors has led to environmental-protection measures such as the Forest and Wildlife Policy, Minerals and Mining Act D, and Environmental Protection Agency Act (World Bank, 2020a). Steps to address the issue of galamsey include the launch and relaunch of Operation Halt to remove all persons and mining equipment from water bodies and forest reserves in the country (World Bank, 2020a; Graphic Online, 2022), but the dangers persist as minimal results have been achieved.

Additionally, these efforts have been politicised, with accusations linking major violations to the political elite and people within the government (Minerals Commission, 2022; Tawiah, 2022; Tossou, 2022).

Will Ghana win the fight against environmental degradation and protect its resplendent natural resources?

This dispatch reports on special survey modules included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 questionnaire to explore Ghanaians’ experiences and perceptions of pollution, environmental governance, and natural resource extraction.

Survey findings show that a majority of Ghanaians consider pollution a serious problem in their community. Trash disposal and sanitation rank as the most important environmental issues at the local level, and most citizens say plastic bags are a major source of pollution in the country.

Ghanaians want greater government action to protect the environment but are divided as to whether this should take precedence over job and income creation.

Fully half of citizens say that the benefits of natural resource extraction, such as jobs, do not outweigh its negative impacts, such as pollution, and most want the government to regulate the industry more tightly to protect the environment.

Francisca Sarpong Owusu

Francisca Sarpong Owusu is an assistant research analyst at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development.

Maame Akua Amoah Twum

Maame is the communications coordinator for North and Anglophone West Africa at Afrobarometer