Environment in Cape Verde Essay

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In the 15th century, the Portuguese discovered the uninhabited Cape Verde archipelago in the North Atlantic and developed in into a major trading center for African slaves and a resupply station for whaling and transatlantic shipping. Today, two major island groups make up the Republic of Cape Verde. The Barlavento (Windward) Islands are composed of Santo Antao, Boa Vista, Sao Nicolau, Sao Vicente, Sal, and Santa Luzia. The Sotavento (Leeward) island group includes Sao Tiago, Fogo, Maio, and Brava. Ever since achieving independence in 1975, Cape Verde has flourished as a stable democracy, but its economic progress has been negatively affected by a number of factors, especially environmental conditions, like drought and seismic activity.

Natural resources on the islands include salt, basalt rock, limestone, kaolin, fish, clay, and gypsum, but none of these resources provides substantial revenue. Less than 10 percent of the land area of Cape Verde is arable, and agriculture provides just over 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Approximately 82 percent of Cape Verde’s food supply is imported. Close to 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Because of prolonged droughts, the island experiences a chronic shortage of fresh water. Some 20 percent of the population lack sustained access to safe drinking water, and 42 percent lack access to improved sanitation. With a per capita income of $6,200, Cape Verde is ranked 119th in world incomes. A third of the 418,224 people lives in poverty, and over a fifth of Cape Verdeans are unemployed. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Reports rank Cape Verde 105 of 232 countries in overall quality-of-life issues.

Surrounded entirely by the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Verde has a coastline of 965 kilometers. These volcanic islands are steep, rugged, and rocky. Elevations range from sea level to 2,829 meters at Mount Fogo, a volcano located on Fogo Island. The temperate climate generally produces warm, dry summers. Little precipitation falls on the islands, and there is no predictable pattern to its occurrence. Seismic activity is a constant threat on Cape Verde, and droughts became so common in the latter half of the 20th century that most of the population suffered hardship, and large groups of people fled the islands. The harmattan, a hot, dry, and dusty seasonal wind, releases large amounts of dust into the atmosphere and accelerates soil degradation. Cyclones and insect infestations also contribute to environmental degradation on Cape Verde.

In addition to soil erosion and desertification that are consequences of both human and climatic activity, deforestation is expanding as forests are cut down for use in cooking and heating. As habitats are damaged, survival rates of wildlife become problematic. Endangered mammals include the Mediterranean monk seal, the northern bald ibis, the green sea turtle, and the hawksbill turtle. Three of 103 bird species are also threatened with extinction, as are 14 of 659 plant species. Overfishing has damaged marine ecosystems and further reduced available food supplies. The practice of removing large amounts of sand from the beaches to use in construction projects has resulted in coastal erosion.

The Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Environment is responsible for implementing environmental laws in Cape Verde and for monitoring compliance with existing laws. The Minister works with regional and international groups to promote sustainable development of the islands. In 2003, the Cape Verde government joined with three United Nations organizations to involve unemployed youth in reconstructing damaged environmental resources.

The Cape Verde government participates in the following international agreements: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, and Ozone Layer Protection.


  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 (Mc-Farland, 1993).

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