Original Paper

Population and Environment

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 133-161

First online:

Exploring environmental perceptions, behaviors and awareness: water and water pollution in South Africa

  • Barbara A. AndersonAffiliated withPopulation Studies Center, University of Michigan Email author 
  • , John H. RomaniAffiliated withSchool of Public Health, University of Michigan
  • , Heston PhillipsAffiliated withStatistics South Africa
  • , Marie WentzelAffiliated withHuman Sciences Research Council
  • , Kholadi TlabelaAffiliated withDepartment of Correctional Services

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Understanding the relationships among perceptions, behaviors and awareness of environmental initiatives is important for both policy makers and social scientists. There is, however, limited consensus among scholars as to the reasons for differences and similarities among ethnic and socio-economic groups in their environmentally related attitudes and behaviors. South Africa, which has established a constitutional right to a safe environment, together with the presence of parallel first and third world populations, offers an unusual setting in which to examine these issues. Using the 2004 South African General Household Survey, the similarities and differences between African and non-African households with respect to the perceptions, behaviors and awareness of programs related to water and water pollution are examined. Africans and those with lower socio-economic status are more likely to perceive water pollution as a community problem; educational attainment is unrelated to this perception. In combination with perception of water pollution as a problem, education is positively related to taking action to treat water for drinking and food preparation. Awareness of a highly touted program to clear waterways of alien vegetation is strongly positively related to socio-economic status, and is much more common among non-Africans than Africans.


Environmental perceptions Africa Racial differences Water pollution