THE REPuBLic of Benin covers 43,483 sq. mi. (112,620 sq. km.) on the West African coast, equivalent to the size of Pennsylvania. Benin has a population of 7,460,025 people (2005 est.), with nearly three million inhabitants living in the coastal stretch that links Cotonou, the economic capital, with Porto-Novo, the political capital. Benin's economy is dominated by agriculture, including the commercial production and export of cotton and palm oil. Most of the rural population earns its livelihood through subsistence farming of corn, beans, cassava, peanuts, and yams. The per capita Gross Domestic Product is $1,200 (2004 est.) and 33 percent of the population lives in poverty.

A coastal belt of lagoons, rolling hills in the central part of the country, rocky plateaus in the northwest, and savanna plains in the northeast characterize Benin. The climate is tropical Soudano-Guinean, with six months of rain and six dry months. Along the coast, it is hot and humid, while the inland climate is semi-arid.

Four environmental issues facing the country are: inadequate supplies of drinking water, poaching of wildlife, deforestation, and desertification. Benin is a party to the following international environmental agreements: biodiversity, climate change, the Kyoto Protocol, desertification, endangered species, environmental modification, hazardous wastes, law of the sea, ozone layer protection, ship pollution, and wetlands.

Climate change awareness among the general population in Benin is significant, as scientists have documented disturbing changes in rainfall patterns beginning in 1971. Farmers are also aware of climatic changes, such as shorter rainy seasons and longer dry spells. The contributions that Benin makes to human-induced climate change are minimal compared to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world. Per capita CO2 emissions in 1998 were only 100 metric tons, as compared to an average of 800 tons for the subcontinent, and the global average of 4,100 metric tons. The burning of liquid fuels (petroleum products) represented 65 percent of the country's CO2 emissions, while the remaining 35 percent was from cement manufacturing, according to the World Resources Institute. Other non-CO2 air pollution in Benin is low compared to the rest of the continent and the world.

Possible impacts of climate change could have significant consequences for Benin's people and environment. With nearly half of the country's population living along the coast, a rise in sea level would threaten their livelihoods and well-being, since this zone would become subject to more frequent erosion and flooding. Climatic changes and drier conditions could accelerate deforestation in the central part of the country and desertification in the north. Also, changes in rainfall patterns are likely to have serious effects on soil erosion, while also leading to changes in cropping patterns and, ultimately, changes in the livelihood patterns of farmers and herders.

sEE ALSo: Deforestation; Desertification; Sea Level, Rising.

BIBLIoGRAPHY. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The World Factbook (CIA, 2006); Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), "Country Report: Benin," (EIU, 2006); John F. McCoy, Geo-Data: The World Geographical Encyclopedia (Thomson-Gale, 2003); World Resources Institute, Earthtrends, (cited September 2007).

Michael Joseph Simsik U.S. Peace Corps

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