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Key findings
  • Almost half (45%) of Sierra Leoneans consider pollution a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem in their community. o Sanitation ranks as the most important local environmental issue (cited by 30%), followed by trash disposal (22%), water pollution (18%), and deforestation (14%). o Almost two-thirds (63%) of respondents say plastic bags are a major source of pollution in Sierra Leone.
  • Almost half (48%) of Sierra Leoneans believe that the primary responsibility for reducing pollution and keeping communities clean rests with ordinary citizens, while about four in 10 assign this task mainly to the local (19%) or national (18%) government.
  • A slim majority (53%) say the government is doing a good job of protecting the environment. A far larger majority (78%) say it should be doing more on this issue.
  • If environmental protection conflicts with economic development, 45% of Sierra Leoneans say the government should prioritise protecting the environment, while 40% say creating jobs and increasing incomes should be its foremost concern.
  • Only about one-third (32%) of Sierra Leoneans think the benefits of natural resource extraction outweigh its costs, such as pollution.
  • More than three-fourths (77%) of citizens say the government should regulate the industry more tightly to curtail its detrimental effects on the environment.

Sierra Leone is endowed with abundant reserves of diamonds, bauxite, gold, and other minerals as well as productive agricultural resources and fisheries (International Trade Administration, 2021). Agriculture is an important driver of the economy, making up 55% of the nation’s gross domestic product (United Nations, 2020), while the mining sector contributes a majority of the county’s foreign exchange earnings (60% in 2022) (Coface for Trade, 2022). Both sectors are major sources of employment for Sierra Leoneans (Fayiah,  Dong, Singh, & Fayiah, 2020). 

Both agriculture – including large-scale palm oil and sugar cane plantations – and mining are also major sources of the country’s environmental problems, including deforestation, land degradation, and water and air pollution (Mabey, Li, Sundufu, & Lashari, 2020). The Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry estimated in 2017 that less than 5% of the country’s cover in 1990 remained intact (Government of Sierra Leone, 2022). In 2017, deforestation turned deadly when a mudslide claimed the lives of more than 1,100 Sierra Leoneans (Glynn, 2018). 

The government’s response, overseen by the Environment Protection Agency and laid out in documents such as its National Adaptation Plan, has sought to strengthen natural resource management and to promote environmentally safe mining practices (Government of Sierra Leone, 2022). Last year, Sierra Leone assumed a leadership role in environmental protection by passing laws that give local communities the right to veto mining, farming, and industrial projects (Peltier, 2022). 

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 questionnaire that explores citizens’ experiences and perceptions of pollution, environmental governance, and natural resource extraction. 

In Sierra Leone, almost half of respondents consider pollution a serious problem in their community. Most assign primary responsibility for reducing pollution to ordinary citizens and the government, which they overwhelmingly expect to do “much more” to protect the environment. 

Perceptions of natural resource extraction are mixed, and most Sierra Leoneans favour tighter government regulation of the industry to reduce its damaging impacts on the environment. 

Marcelline Amouzou

Marcelline Amouzou is a PhD student in political science at the University of Florida.