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Key findings
  • Three-fourths (76%) of São Toméans say that pollution is a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem in their community. o As the most important environmental issues in their community, citizens cite trash and plastic disposal (45%), pollution of water sources (20%), and sanitation (14%). o Most respondents (87%) say plastic bags are a major source of pollution in São Tomé and Príncipe.
  • Almost half (48%) of São Toméans say the primary responsibility for reducing pollution and keeping communities clean rests with local citizens. A similar proportion assign that responsibility to their local government (43%) while far fewer say it is the responsibility of the national government (7%).
  • Even so, an overwhelming majority (89%) of São Toméans say the government should be doing more to limit pollution and protect the environment, including 75% who say it needs to do “much more.”
  • But only 44% would prioritise environmental protection over jobs, while 38% say the government should focus on creating jobs and increasing incomes, even if that means increasing pollution or other environmental damage.
  • Only 28% of São Toméans say the benefits of natural resource extraction, such as jobs and revenue, outweigh negative impacts such as pollution.
  • Almost seven in 10 citizens (69%) want the government to regulate natural resource extraction more tightly in order to reduce its negative impacts on the environment.

São Tomé and Príncipe is known for its rich forest ecosystems, but agriculture and fuelwood  consumption have led to a decline in forested areas, endangering rare and endemic  species (Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2023; Seibert & Clarence-Smith, 2023).  Agriculture, particularly cacao, coffee, and coconut palm, is vital to the economy,  contributing 20% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employing 60% of the population  (Agence Française de Développement, 2021). 

The country has also experienced climate-change impacts such as rising temperatures,  prolonged dry seasons, and sea-level rise, leading to natural disasters such as floods, storms,  coastal erosion, and droughts. The government declared a state of disaster in December  2021 after severe flooding from a major storm and initiated a National Adaptation Plan in  2022 to mitigate climate-change vulnerabilities (UN Environment Programme, 2022). 

While São Tomé and Príncipe has no known mineral resources, the country has considerable  deep-water hydrocarbon reserves within its maritime boundaries (Seibert & Clarence-Smith,  2023). In 2001, São Tomé and Príncipe established a Joint Developing Zone with Nigeria for  the exploration of petroleum and other resources within their shared boundaries  (International Trade Administration, 2022). Foreign companies have also shown interest in the  country’s oil reserves, with some acquiring the rights to oil blocks off São Tomé and Príncipe’s  coasts.  

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

Survey findings show that a majority of São Toméans believe pollution is a serious problem in  their community, ranking waste disposal and water pollution as the most important local  environmental issues. Most want their government to do more to limit pollution and protect  the environment. 

Citizens are divided as to whether environmental protection policies should be prioritised over jobs and incomes, but most say the government should tighten regulations on natural  resource extraction to reduce their negative impact on the environment. 

Nina Silvia Iskandarsjach

Nina Silvia Iskandarsjach is an international relations student at Stanford University and a Stanford in Government Fellow at CDD-Ghana

Gildfred Boateng Asiamah

Gildfred Boateng Asiamah previously served as a research analyst at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana).