Environment in Benin Essay

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Arisi ng out of the 15th-century kingdom of Dahomey, the Republic of Benin won its independence from France in 1960. In the early 1990s, Benin became the first African nation to successfully transform itself from a Marxist-Leninist government to a multi-party democracy, though local elections were not actually held until 2002. With a per capita income of only $1,100, Benin is the 27th poorest country in the world. One-third of the people live in poverty, and a fifth of them are seriously undernourished. Benin’s economy is generally underdeveloped and is chiefly dependent on subsistence agriculture. Less than 45 percent of the people live in urban areas. In addition to small offshore deposits of oil, Benin’s natural resources include limestone, marble, and timber.

Bordering on the Bight of Benin in the Atlantic Ocean, this West African country has a coastline of 121 kilometers and shares land borders with Nigeria, Niger, Togo, and Burkina Faso. Because the coast of Benin has no natural harbors, river mouths, or islands, sandbanks limit coastal access in some areas. The land is mostly flat with a few hills and low mountains. Elevations range from sea level to 658 meters at Mont Sokbaro. Benin’s climate is tropical, varying from hot and humid in the south to semiarid in the north. From December to March, northern areas may experience the harmattan, a hot, dry, and dusty wind that accelerates soil degradation. Cotonou, which is the economic capital, experiences frequent flooding and may become even more vulnerable in response to global warming.

Health and Environment

Benin’s population of 7,460,025 is seriously threatened by a 1.9 percent HIV/AIDS rate that caused 5,800 deaths by 2003. Another 68,000 Beninese have been diagnosed with the disease. Benin has a shortage of potable water. Some 32 percent of the population lacks sustained access to safe drinking water, and 68 of Beninese do not have access to improved sanitation (12 percent in rural areas). This lack of safe water and basic sanitation has created a very high risk of contracting food and waterborne diseases, including typhoid fever and hepatitis A. Beninese are also at risk for contracting meningococcal meningitis, a respiratory disease. In some areas, the risk of contracting vectorborne diseases such as malaria and yellow fever is also high.

Because of the high disease rate, the Beninese experience low life expectancy (53.04 years) and high infant mortality (79.56 deaths per 1,000 live births) and death rates (12.22/1,000). Thus, the population grows at a rate of only 2.73 percent. The Benin fertility rate is extremely high at 5.9 children per female. Low literacy rates (46.4 percent for males and 22.6 percent for females) make the dissemination of health and environmental information difficult. The United Nations Development Project (UNDP) Human Development Reports rank Benin 162 of 232 countries on overall quality-of-life issues.

In 2006, scientists at Yale University ranked Benin 84 of 132 countries on environmental performance, slightly above the comparable income and geographic groups. Desertification is spreading in Benin, and deforestation occurs at a rate of 2.3 percent each year. Approximately 247,000 acres of forest have been cleared to provide fuel, as there is no other source of energy for cooking and heating. These problems are particularly severe in the arid areas of the north. The government has protected 11.4 percent of land area. Of 188 mammal species identified in Benin, eight are endangered, as are two of 112 bird species. Wildlife populations are at great risk from poaching.

Coastal erosion in Benin that has resulted from decades of dam building and the practice of removing a million meters of sand each year for construction have led to loss of land for development and to the destruction of existing buildings. For instance, in the cities of Grand Popo and Finagnon, hundreds of houses have vanished, along with the expensive Palm Beach Hotel that was built along the Atlantic coast of Benin in 1982. Approximately 20 meters of coastal land per year is being reclaimed by the sea. Such losses not only produce massive human displacement and environmental degradation, they also damage the already fragile Beninese economy.

In 1990, Benin’s Constitution declared that a clean environment was the right and responsibility of all Beninese. Two years later, the Ministry of Environment, Housing, and Urban Development was created and charged with the implementation and monitoring of Benin’s environmental laws. The following year, an environmental framework was set out in the Environmental Plan, which operates on the principle that polluters pay for the damage they create. Modeled after international and regional plans, Benin’s environmental policies seek to promote sustainable development while dealing with issues that range from improving the quality of water and waste disposal to severe coastal erosion.

Checking coastal erosion is considered a major priority in environmental planning, and the government has begun constructing groins, a system of levees that are built at right angles to the sea, to check the damage created by ocean currents. The ultimate success of this project will depend on obtaining the roughly $60 million necessary for full implementation. Benin participates in the following international agreements on the environment: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands.


  1. Timothy Doyle, Environmental Movements in Minority and Majority Worlds: A Global Perspective (Rutgers University Press, 2005);
  2. Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Africa and the Middle East: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003);
  3. Valentine Udoh James, Africa’s Ecology: Sustaining the Biological and Environmental Diversity of a Continent (McFarland, 1993).

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