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Key findings
  • More than half (52%) of Zambians say pollution is a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem in their community. o Citizens cite trash disposal, deforestation, and pollution of water sources as the most important environmental issues in their community. o More than two-thirds (69%) of citizens say plastic bags are a major source of pollution in Zambia.
  • About six in 10 Zambians (58%) say the primary responsibility for reducing pollution and keeping communities clean rests with local citizens. Far fewer would defer that responsibility to their local governments (19%) or the national government (13%).
  • Even so, most Zambians (72%) say the government should be doing more to limit pollution and protect the environment, including 61% who say it needs to do “much more.”
  • A majority (55%) of citizens would prioritise environmental protection over jobs and income creation, while 40% say the government should focus on creating jobs and growing incomes, even if it means increasing pollution or other environmental damage.
  • Only 39% of Zambians say the benefits of natural resource extraction, such as jobs and revenue, outweigh negative impacts such as pollution.
  • Only 31% think local communities receive a fair share of the revenues from natural resource extraction.
  • And a large majority (74%) want the government to regulate natural resource extraction more tightly in order to reduce its negative impacts on the environment.

Zambia’s economic development is tied closely to the environment: Mining, tourism,  agriculture, and forestry contribute the biggest share of the country’s gross domestic product  (GDP) and export value (Aongola et al., 2009; World Bank, 2020).  

Copper alone generates more than 80% of export earnings and is the backbone of Zambia’s  economy, complemented by mining of cobalt, gold, nickel, lead, silver, uranium, zinc, and  numerous precious and semi-precious stones. Natural assets such as waterfalls, lakes, rivers,  and a variety of wildlife species contribute to the country’s economic development via job  creation and foreign exchange revenues (Policy Monitoring and Research Centre, 2021;  International Labour Organization, 2021; World Bank, 2020).  

The balance of economic development and environmental protection is critical in Zambia,  as industry, urbanisation, and climate change take a heavy toll, including pollution of soil, air,  and water, with attendant effects on human health and wildlife; rapid deforestation and loss  of wetlands; severe drought; inadequate sanitation; and trash-disposal challenges in cities (UNEP, 2021, 2023; Slunge & Ölund Wingqvist, 2010; Chibwili, 2023). 

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

Survey findings indicate that more than half of Zambians consider pollution a serious problem  in their community, citing trash disposal, deforestation, and pollution of water sources as their top local environmental issues.  

Citizens see themselves as primarily responsible for limiting pollution and keeping  communities clean, but they also want “much more” action from the government to protect  the environment, even at considerable economic cost. 

Zambians hold mixed views on the benefits and environmental costs of natural resource  extraction, and most want the government to regulate this industry more tightly to reduce its  negative impacts on the environment. 

Edward Chibwili

Edward Chibwili is the national investigator for Zambia.