Countries Doing the Most (and Least) to Protect the Environment

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Countries doing the least to protect the environment:

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10. Democratic Republic of the Congo
> GDP per capita: $6,381
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 100.0%
> Pct. protected land: 31.8%

Managing the environment requires a well-functioning government. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of several African nations where governance problems and long running histories of economic and civil unrest have hindered environmental stewardship. While minerals — many of which are used in smartphones — drive the DRG’s economy, they also remain at the root of civil war and corruption. The Central African nation struggles to provide basic services to its citizens, let alone protect its habitats from pollution. Like most countries at the bottom of this list, virtually every DRC resident is exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution. The WHO estimates that 107,780 Congolese died from indoor and outdoor air pollution in 2012.

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9. Mozambique
> GDP per capita: $1,192
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 99.7%
> Pct. protected land: 10.9%

Typically, developing nations have greater issues with water quality and air pollution. In Mozambique, one of the poorest nations in the world, both types of pollution are a serious issue. The population has high exposure to particulate pollution, ranking 22nd worst among countries with available data. Only 4.4% of Mozambique’s population has access to clean sources of fuel for indoor cooking, which greatly contribute to indoor air pollution. The WHO estimates that 15,145 Mozambicans died from indoor air pollution in 2012. Additionally, only 1% of the population is connected to a centralized wastewater treatment facility.

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8. Bangladesh
> GDP per capita: $3,340
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 100.0%
> Pct. protected land: 3.4%

Poor environmental conditions are taking a toll on the health of the Bangladeshi population. A very large share of the country’s water is untreated — a basic necessity taken for granted in most developed nations. Untreated water is especially problematic in Bangladesh as arsenic, a highly toxic mineral, occurs naturally in the country’s groundwater.

Poor water quality is not the only environmental hazard in Bangladesh. The entire population is exposed to air pollution exceeding safe levels as defined by the World Health Organization. The WHO estimates that 144,477 Bengalis died due to indoor or outdoor air pollution in 2012.

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7. Mali
> GDP per capita: $2,028
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 100.0%
> Pct. protected land: 8.4%

Like many of the least environmentally conscious countries, Mali is in Sub-Saharan Africa and heavily dependent on agriculture. Agriculture accounts for some 41% of the country’s total economic output, a larger share than all but a handful of other nations.

Poor environmental policy and controls are likely taking a toll on the health of Mali’s population. Just 56% of Malians have access to treated drinking water, and 100% of the population is exposed to air pollution levels that exceed safety standards outlined by the World Health Organization.

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6. Chad
> GDP per capita: $2,176
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 100.0%
> Pct. protected land: 17.8%

Chad is one of only two countries with available data in which agriculture accounts for more than half of its GDP. A heavy reliance on agriculture is the hallmark of a developing nation, and, like many developing nations, Chad faces problems due to severe pollution. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that the entire country’s population is exposed to levels of air pollution beyond global health guidelines.

None of the country’s energy is derived from nuclear or alternative sources. Additionally, only 3.6% of the population has access to clean fuel and technologies for cooking, which contributes to lethal indoor air pollution. According to WHO estimates, indoor and outdoor air pollution was responsible for 20,109 deaths in the country in 2012.