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Opinions of Sunday, 27 November 2011

Columnist: Gariba, Chieminah Abudu

Bush Fires in Northern Ghana

The perennial problem of bush fires is once again here with us. These days there is fire everywhere in northern Ghana. Bush fires in Ghana are probably as old as the Savannah vegetation. The Savannah vegetation after enjoying pristine greenery conditions for a couple of months suddenly lost moisture, and is gradually being consumed by bush fires.

The vulnerability of northern Ghana to bush fires stems from the single maxima rainfall pattern that it experiences during the year. The long dry season which follows the short rainy season causes the Savannah grass to wither and render it susceptible to the least spark of fire. Judging by the annual devastation caused by bush fires, there is the urgent need for all stake-holders to proffer solutions to end this perennial problem. Hardly a year passes without the media reporting of loss of property, lives and natural resources worth several millions of Ghana cedis attributable to bush fires. Yet, no lasting solutions to the problem of bush fires seem to be in sight.

Everybody in Ghana says bush fires are bad for us; but nobody seems to be offering pragmatic solutions to this ancient problem of ours. The favourite mantra in the crusade against bush fires is: ‘Let’s stop burning the bush.’ But the question is, can bush fires ever be stopped or prevented in Ghana? No, is probably the answer. The ease with which the Savannah vegetation gets consumed annually by fire makes one to wonder whether bush fires in the north can ever be prevented. Not long ago, the entire bush in and around the Wa airstrip was burnt to ashes. Clearly, the Wa airstrip which is a facility located in town represents a classical case of our lack of capacity as a country to deal with bush fires using the existing approaches. If a protected facility such as the Wa airstrip could fall so easily to bush fires, then your guess about the rest of the bushes far away from human settlement is as good as mine. Millions of Ghana cedis have been spent on various bush fire campaigns but with little results. Perhaps there is more to bush fires than meets the eye. The big question on the minds of many Ghanaians is, why are we unable to prevent the bush from getting consumed by wild fires? Admittedly, there are no easy answers to this question. Nonetheless, I believe it is time for us to embark on a paradigm shift with regard to our approach towards solving the bush fire menace. The phenomenon of bush fires has not been given adequate scientific study in the country. And this probably explains why bush fires won’t go away anytime soon. Many well meaning Ghanaians have questioned the continual allocation of financial and material resources for bush fire campaigns, when we all know the bush will burn, anyway. As a country we are yet to produce a scientific report to justify the amount of money being spent on bush fire campaigns. The monies spent on bush fire campaigns could be better utilized in equipping the Ghana National Fire Service.

Some people have suggested early and controlled burning of the bush by personnel of the Ghana National Fire Service with the support of local inhabitants. Early and controlled burning of the bush has the advantage of reducing the negative impact associated with bush fires. However, this suggestion is often faced with negative criticisms. Even though this proposal may look crude, it appears to offer boundless opportunities for reducing the ills associated with uncontrolled bush fires in Ghana.

In summing up, let us all come together to provide workable solutions to this ancient problem of bush fires in northern Ghana. So far, the ‘fire-fighting solutions’ offered to the problem has not been of much help. God bless our homeland Ghana.

Source: Chieminah Abudu Gariba