Special Report

Countries Doing the Most and Least to Protect the Environment

Countries Doing the Least to Protect the Environment

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15. Sao Tome and Principe
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 100.0%
> Area with gov. protection: 0.2%
> GDP per capita: $3,053

There’s a clear link between a nation’s wealth and its ability to protect the environment, so it’s no surprise that Sao Tome and Principe, with its tiny per capita GDP of just over $3,000, ranks among the worst in the world. About 50% of the land is used for agriculture in this small island nation that is less than 1,000 square kilometers, roughly five times larger than Washington D.C. Situated off the west coast of Africa, Sao Tome and Principe’s environmental challenges include deforestation, soil erosion, and inadequate treatment of sewage in urban areas.

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14. Botswana
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 100.0%
> Area with gov. protection: 29.1%
> GDP per capita: $15,474

Botswana shares a daunting statistic with the other 14 countries doing the least to protect their environment: 100% of its population is exposed to air pollution levels exceeding the World Health Organization’s guidelines. But it ranks among the highest in this group when it comes to the percentage of the protected terrestrial and marine area. Despite that, the southern African nation is likely to find itself embroiled in conservationist controversy for the foreseeable future following its May 22 decision to end its ban on elephant hunting.

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13. Sudan
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 100.0%
> Area with gov. protection: 2.8%
> GDP per capita: $4,467

Sudan is a nation in turmoil. South Sudan split off from Sudan in 2011, taking a big piece of oil revenue with it. A civil war broke out in South Sudan in 2013, and Sudan has become a destination for refugees and asylum seekers. The northern African country’s resources are stretched thin by this series of events, but it is supported by the UN in preparing its first State of the Environment and Outlook Report, aiming to help the government make informed decisions and adopt an integrated approach to understanding the link between social and economic development.

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12. Malawi
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 100.0%
> Area with gov. protection: 22.9%
> GDP per capita: $1,095

The simple and necessary act of cooking a meal is a source of environmental concern in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries. Very few people in the country have access to electricity, so most meals are prepared on wood fires. The demand for wood and charcoal contributes to deforestation, with an estimated 3% of Malawi’s forests lost each year. And the smoke from the wood fires takes its toll on air quality, releasing hundreds of substances into the air, including particulates, soot, carcinogens, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons, leading to lung disease, with women and children particularly susceptible.

Among Malawi’s sustainable development goals are ensuring access to modern, sustainable, affordable and reliable energy for all and enact sustainable water management practices.

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11. Chad
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 100.0%
> Area with gov. protection: 20.4%
> GDP per capita: $1,768

The good news is that in the years since 24/7 Wall St. last reported on the countries doing the least to protect the environment, Chad has increased its terrestrial and marine-protected areas — from 17.8% of land to 20.4% today.

The bad news is that only 9.5% of the population has access to basic sanitation, and many deaths are related to unsafe water and sanitation and the lack of hygienic conditions. Chad’s environmental goals include reducing air pollution from vehicle emissions, dropping lead levels in fuel, and lowering emissions from biomass burning.

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10. Guinea-Bissau
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 100.0%
> Area with gov. protection: 11.6%
> GDP per capita: $1,549

Environmental protections are necessities that can feel like luxuries in desperately poor countries, where a large percentage of the population lacks regular access to food, potable water, and basic sanitation. Add political instability to the equation and it’s easy to imagine sustainability and green policies sliding down the priority list. Guinea-Bissau fits that description, with almost 70% of the population living below the poverty line and as much as half of the population food-insecure in some regions. The West African country has been in chronic political turmoil since it gained independence in 1974.