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Opinions of Sunday, 27 May 2007

Columnist: Agyepong, Benjamin Opoku

A wake up call too expensive to ignore

Anybody who has been staying on top of the news from all media outlets in recent years is privy to the resurgence of former U.S Vice Pee. Al Gore, through his famous documentary on climate change entitled “inconvenient truth”. A sad awakening of all people that walk this planet earth to the deterioration of the climate that we have all taken for granted over centuries. Only the fool will deny the reality of global climate change, such a person may be living on an illusory planet and not ours.

Last Friday, May 18th 2007, the news from the BBC, monitored by the National Public radio (NPR) was, to say the least very dire in its reportage of Global warming. The news painted a very bleak picture of drought in Madagascar, where communities are facing water shortages and the situation is pitching communities against communities in the fight over the precious resource called water. On the same day, the BBC reported also on the severe drought that has hit Australia with tremendous consequences for ranchers who can not even get hay to feed their livestock and are being forced to sell their animals and leave the industry altogether. The same day, NPR reported that the seas at the South Pole, which, for centuries have served to absorb most of the carbon dioxide that human activities help to emit into the atmosphere has reached their saturated points and are now beginning to give back some of the previously absorbed carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. All these point to a very bad future if nothing is done now to avert the gloomy situation of global climate change.

Back home in Ghana, we have woken up to a nightmarish situation where power from the only hydro-electric dam at Akosombo has to be rationed to the communities in turns to avoid a complete system shutdown. Perhaps this is our own wake up call for which we as a nation must not ignore. Yes, the globe is warming but the impact of this global warming is a local phenomenon. Different societies will feel it differently, depending on the level of development, resource availability, education of the citizenry, structure of the economy and many other dynamics. It is widely believed that if nothing is done to reverse the current trend in environmental decay, by the year 2020, the average temperature around the world would rise by 3 degrees centigrade. This, it is anticipated, would lead to the rise in the sea level causing severe flooding in coastal communities and drought in the hinterlands. The Sahara Desert would expand rapidly towards the south and most of us would have to fight for water for our own survival. Diseases would be rampant and farmers would suffer severe shortfall in their already meager incomes. Africa would suffer the most (according to these reports) due to the prevalence of poverty and general lack of development to counter the effects of climate change, though, among the continents, Africa is the least polluter of the environment, yet it would bore the highest burden of global warming.

Local effects of climate change

A couple of months ago, I read an article on Ghana web that was captioned “Campaign to reverse global climate change launched. To say that I read that article with a great sigh of relief will be an understatement. Much less the launching of the website that was reported in the article. I said to myself, at long last, Ghanaians are waking-up to the issue of environmental degradation and climate change. However, as an environmentalist, I read in-between the lines and questioned myself about certain lines of reasoning the speaker who was being reported on in the article was embarking upon. Whiles Mr. Gold (the coordinator of the campaign) was putting much of the blame of global climate change at the door steps of developed nations, especially the U.S and its allies and also calling for ordinary Africans to change their way of life to help reverse the phenomenon of climate change, I regret to say that the coordinator of the campaign failed to blame some of the most important culprits of the clime of environmental degradation in Africa; politicians, chiefs and governments of Africa.

Why blame Politicians for the environmental disasters in Africa We read many a times, how much the government of Ghana and other African governments earn from timber exports for example this cut from an article appeared on this website February 13th, 2006

“Takoradi, Feb. 13, GNA - Ghana earned Euro 184,011,323 from the Export of 466,155 cubic metres of wood products last year. It said sixty-seven countries imported wood products from Ghana in 2005 with Italy, the United States, India, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Belgium together imported wood products worth Euro 132,383,555.”

The question that we need to ask ourselves is this, Ghana and the U.S. which has the most forest reserve? Why is it that the U.S. is conserving its forest and asking us to destroy ours by cutting down all our trees and export to them? What is the cost of Euro 184,011,323 which represents the revenue derived from wood exports in 2005 in terms of future reduction in rainfall in Ghana? In terms of desertification of our country? In terms of agricultural shortfalls and food insecurity? And etc. Our politicians are very quick to tout small increases in timber revenues but short sighted in foreseeing the consequences of logging for future generations. It is not true that ordinary Ghanaians are not feeling the effect of climate change on their daily lives as Mr. Gold suggested in that article, oh! Yes, they are seeing and feeling it, but are very helpless on what to do since they do not make policies and those elected to think and act on their behalf put politics before their wellbeing.

As a Ghanaian, it is utterly ridiculous for anybody to suggest that I am not feeling the effect of climate change. When the change is visibly around me. During my secondary school days in the early1980s when we used to go to our village in “Ananekrom”, a village about 16 kilometers north of Agogo in the Ashanti North district, the whole 16 kilometer journey we used to travel, was through a virgin forest that was the habitat for most wild animals and birds. Today, the whole strip of land has turned to savannah grassland with pockets of secondary forest dominated by the “acheampong”weed (a type of weed that became popular during the reign of General Acheampong and named subsequently after him). This means that the thick forest that served as a buffer between the Afram plains of the north and the forest belt of Agogo is completely dissipated and Agogo is now lying at the southern end of the plains. All that has happened within a period of 23 years.

The dissipation of the parcel of primary forest, was caused by continuous logging, failure of loggers to replant trees cut and perennial bush fires. Who awards these timber contracts? Is it not the government? Now the end result of this environmental degradation in Agogo and its suburbs is that, the main river that supplied water for the residents (river “Koowire”) has dried up. The township is increasingly relying on boreholes and pipe water from Konongo, but with future rainfalls projected to be nothing but abysmal, the water table is expected to drop down in the future so the wells have to be sunk deeper and deeper to provide water for future generations. Are we then not feeling the effect of climate change yet?

At the national level, the link between the destruction of the forest in far away Ashanti region and the Akosombo dam is not far fetched. The “Koowire river at Agogo is a tributary to River Afram, which is also a tributary to the Volta river. When all these small rivers that bring water into the Volta Lake are drying up, then the reasons for the drying up of the Volta river becomes obvious, and we can figure out why we can not have adequate water for the purpose of power generation.

Why can’t the government be a little proactive on the environment? Why can’t we forego this meager timber earnings in order to help rejuvenate our forests and to help push back the desertification that is threatening the nation? Why is there no comprehensive environmental policy for the nation? If the Israeli nation is making forest out of desert, why are we rather making desert out of our forest? Why do we destroy our forests now and later borrow money to attempt to reverse it? Isn’t this insane? Can’t people foresee that plantains, cocoyam and even our cocoa production will be seriously threatened in about 20 years from now, with the present spate of climate change?

Chiefs also must share in the blame.

Some chiefs confuse the fact that they are custodians of the land to mean that they are the owners of the land and collude with the government to award logging contracts in their areas of jurisdiction in order to benefit from timber royalties which they seldom use for the benefit of the townships. By their actions and inactions, the whole community is made to suffer the consequences of logging in their vicinities but the perceived benefits would only be accrued to the chiefs only (a policy of sharing the pain but not the benefits). Ironically, most of these modern chiefs live in the cities or in the Diaspora and visit their towns and villages on festive occasions and as a result do not share the pain of their subjects.

The consequences of Climate change for water security

The water shortages that have hit parts of the country including the Central, Northern and the Two Upper regions will only continue and perhaps worsen over the coming years if nothing is done to avert the catastrophic impact of global warming. Almost, every river in Ghana has suffered a serious reduction in its volume over the past years, Densu, Afram, Volta, Ankobra, and etc. our own lake Bosomtwe has retreated about 20 feet inwards over the past few years. I visited one of the villages along Bosomtwe recently, and was shown parts of the land that was hitherto occupied by the lake about 10 years ago being prepared for farming as the waters no longer comes close by, not even during the peak of the rainy season.

The net effect for future generations would be persistent drought, inadequate drinking water for human and livestock and its accompanied huge cost for the economy. Already, the recent power shortage is hitting the economy very hard, threatening to erode most of the gains from the hard policy choices of the Kuffour government.

What must be done to mitigate the local effects of climate change? Can we do anything to avert the negative consequences of climate change? Yes, we surely can if we have the will to do something about it. History tells us that, our ancestors never had the level of education we enjoy now, yet never lacked in wisdom in controlling the rivers. We learnt, upon growing up, that every river belongs to the chief of the town or village; therefore, about 50-100 feet from the river bank belonged to the chief and could not be cleared for farming. Nobody dared to clear the parcel of land on the river banks. The rivers were protected from the direct sunlight, that way, the river basins were protected and even small rivers could flow during the dry seasons.

The government can revisit that traditional practice and enact laws prohibiting farming within 100 feet from every river bank (on both sides). This will help re-grow the vegetation on the banks of the rivers and protect the basins to ensure water flow by reducing evaporation.

We also have to cultivate the habit of planting trees on our highways, on other small feeder roads and government lands to help with the reforestation drive to protect our environment. This can only be possible if the government works in partnership with the chiefs and district assemblies to control indiscriminate logging and replanting of trees in all areas that have no immediate use to help greening the environment.

We must also make serious effort to push back the Sahara Desert that is threatening our very existence from the north. It is not too late, serious and persistent tree planting can go a long way to help prevent further encroachment of the desert if not reverse it.

In conclusion, we must note that, very soon, petroleum will be a thing of the past, when solar cars, electric cars, and hydrogen –cell cars become the order of the day. Water is projected to be the next resource that nations may have to spend the bulk of their resources on to ensure survival and development and nations that may be abound with water resources will derive a lot of revenue from export of this precious resource. After all, with petroleum, we can do without it by “Kakdeeing” but we can not do without water without perishing from this earth. A stitch in time, they say, saves many.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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