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Si nce winning independence from France in 1958, the Republic of Guinea has been ruled by only two presidents. The first of these, Sekou Toure, served until his death in 1984. General Lansana Conte succeeded to the presidency after Toure’s death led to a military coup. He was returned to office in 1993 in Guinea’s first democratic election. Guinea’s population of 9,690,000 has expanded partially in response to the influx of 141,000 refugees from the politically tumultuous Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. In response to situations in these countries, a panic over food shortages led to riots in local markets in Guinea. Despite natural resources that include half of the world’s bauxite reserves, iron ore, diamonds, gold, uranium, hydropower, fish, and salt, Guinea is essentially an underdeveloped nation.
Less than 35 percent of Guineans live in urban areas. Eighty percent of the population is engaged in the agricultural sector, mostly at the subsistence level. The mining industry is essential to the Guinean economy, providing 70 percent of export revenues. In 2003, most World Bank and International Monetary Funds were suspended. With a per capita income of $2,200, Guinea is ranked 175 of 232 nations in world incomes. Forty percent of Guineans live in poverty, and over a fourth of the population is undernourished. Income disparity results in the most affluent 10 percent of the population holding almost a third of the nation’s wealth. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Reports rank Guinea 156 of 232 countries on overall quality of life issues.
Major social indicators reveal the vulnerability of the Guinean population. Life expectancy is low at 49.5 years. Infant mortality, on the other hand, is high at 90 deaths per 1,000 live births. The population is at risk from an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 3.2 percent that has killed 9,000 people since 2003. Only six percent of rural resident and 13 percent of all residents have access to improved sanitation. A little over half the population has sustained access to safe drinking water, but less than 40 percent of rural residents do so. Guineans experience a very high risk of contracting food and waterborne diseases that include bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever. Other threats come from schistosomiasis, a water contact disease, meningococcal meningitis, a respiratory disease, and Lassa fever – a disease caused by contact with infected aerosolized dust or soil. In some locations, high risks for contracting malaria and yellow fever also exist. With a fertility rate of 5.9 children per woman and a literacy rate of only 21.9 percent, life is particularly difficult for females.
Bordering on the North Atlantic Ocean, Guinea has a coastline of 320 kilometers. The sources of the Niger River and its tributary the Milo are located within the Guinean highlands. Guinea shares land borders with the Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. The terrain of Guinea is mostly flat coastal plain with a hilly to mountainous interior. Elevations range from sea level to 1,752 meters at Mont Nimba. The climate is hot and humid, with a monsoonal-type rainy season from June to November that is accompanied by southwesterly winds. From December to May, the dry season ushers in hot, dry, northeasterly harmattan winds that reduce visibility.
Over several centuries, Guineans engaged in slashand-burn agriculture that led to an annual deforestation rate of 1.14 by the mid-1990s. During the 1980s, approximately 89,000 acres were lost to such tactics, turning forests into woodland, grass, and bush and endangering plant and wild life. Irresponsible mining practices also led to major environmental damage, including pollution, soil erosion, and desertification. Guinea has a significant shortage of potable water and pollution caused by agricultural runoff and improper waste disposal further threatens water resources and leads to major health problems. Overfishing has threatened the food supply and damaged vulnerable marine ecosystems.
In 2006, scientists ranked Guinea 113 of 132 countries on environmental performance, in line with the relevant geographic group but below the relevant income group. The overall score was reduced because of the poor grade on environmental health. Over 28 percent of the land area of Guinea is forested, and the government brought over 100,000 hectares of forests under national protection in the early years of the 21st century, including the nature reserve on Mont Nimba. Of 190 endemic mammal species, 12 are endangered, as are 10 of 109 endemic bird species.
The National Directorate of the Environment is responsible for implementing and enforcing the environmental laws and regulations of Guinea. With an overall plan of achieving environmental sustainability, targeted goals include reducing poverty, improving health and education, increasing protected areas, and enhancing access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation. The National Directorate of Water and Forests is also involved in providing environmental assessment and in promoting sustainable forest management.
Through the government-sponsored Declaration of Policy on Land Tenure Security in Rural Areas and the activities of Non-Government Organizations and international groups, villagers have been trained in ways to practice sustainable development. Guinea participates in the following international agreements on the environment: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands, and Whaling.
- Timothy Doyle, Environmental Movements in Minority and Majority Worlds: A Global Perspective (Rutgers University Press, 2005);
- Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Africa and the Middle East: A Continental Overview of Env ronmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003);
- Valentine Udoh James, Africa’s Ecology: Sustaining the Biological and Environmental Diversity of A Continent (McFarland, 1993).