Dealing with extreme environmental degradation: stress and marginalization of Sahel dwellers


Background: Psychological aspects of environmental degradation are hardly investigated. In the present study these aspects were examined among Sahel dwellers, who live in environments with different states of degradation. The degradation was assessed in terms of vegetation cover, erosion, and loss of organic matter. Method: Subjects came from three cultural groups: Dogon (agriculturalists, n = 225), Mossi (agriculturalists, n = 914), and Fulani (pastoralists, n = 844). Questionnaires addressing marginalization, locus of control, and coping were administered. Results: Environmental degradation was associated with higher levels of stress, marginalization, passive coping (avoidance), a more external locus of control, and lower levels of active coping (problem solving and support seeking). Compared to agriculturalists, pastoralists showed a stronger variation in all psychological variables across all regions, from the least to the most environmentally degraded. Women showed higher scores of stress, (external) locus of control, problem solving, and support seeking than men. The interaction of gender and region was significant for several variables. Conclusion: It was concluded that environmental degradation has various psychological correlates: people are likely to display an active approach to environmental degradation as long as the level of degradation is not beyond their control.

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Accepted: 25 February 1999

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Van Haaften, E., Van de Vijver, F. Dealing with extreme environmental degradation: stress and marginalization of Sahel dwellers. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 34, 376–382 (1999).

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  • Organic Matter
  • Vegetation Cover
  • Environmental Degradation
  • Cultural Group
  • Strong Variation