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Opinions of Saturday, 28 January 2017

Columnist: Adofo, Rockson

Dangers posed by the littering of plastic bags and surface mining (Galamsey)

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It has always been a great concern to me how Ghana is being left to suffer environmental degradation by the unconscious or conscious actions of our leaders and us. The way our cities, towns and villages are nonchalantly left to the mercy of plastic bags littering and our farmlands subjected to extensively uncontrollable damaging surface mining is very worrying.

My concern was exacerbated by what I witnessed as an unacceptable degree of littering by plastic food bags during my recent visit to Ghana in November/December 2016 to assist with the then ongoing NPP electioneering campaign. I could see transparent and dark-coloured plastic bags lying all around on the ground in their quantities in both public places and the countryside.

These plastic carrier bags are used for the “pure water” that is sold throughout the country as the major source of potable water to almost every Ghanaian, and also, for wrapping food items bought in the market and other public places.

It is how we dispose of the plastic bags that have greatly alarmed me. The bags after use are chucked away anywhere and anyhow. The propensity for littering by the people coupled with the accumulation of the used and discarded bags in public places and the countryside does pose not only health and safety hazards to the public but also, to the ecology of our country.

While in Kumasi at the Unicorn House area in Adum, during my said visit to Ghana, I had the perfect opportunity to witness how the littered plastic bags were choking the open gutters. On two occasions that I was there to catch a taxi, either fortunately or unfortunately, the heavens opened up. At a T-junction in the main gutter where it branches towards the defunct railway area through culverts, come and see how the plastic bags were blocking the flow of the river. The bags were accumulating at that point, having been swept away from where only God knows.

A certain man without hand gloves on jumped into the gutter and was removing the rubbish that was choking the gutter. It was the second time that I saw the same man does that with one other same man giving him instructions and finally giving him some money. Seeing how unhygienic and the health dangers posed to the man working in the gutter with his bare hands, on the second occasion, I approached the man I suspected to be his boss.

When I approached him, I said, “Please, I would like to know if you are the boss of this gentleman you are talking to who has just jumped out of the gutter?” The man could not give me an answer straightaway. From his facial expression or body language, I could tell that he was afraid and was wondering who I could be. I said to him, “I have observed on two separate occasions that I have come here and it was raining that the man would jump into the gutter and without protective gloves on his hands, remove rubbish from the gutter. I find that very unhygienic, unsafe and a danger to his life.

He then gathered confidence to tell me that he was not his boss but just that he is a trader, pointing to a merchandise stall as his, and that for the rainwater in the gutter not to overflow to destroy their commodities, all those with commodities stalls along the gutter do contribute money to give to him and others to clear the gutter of any rubbish that has the potential to block the gutter to cause overflow of rainwater to damage their goods.

I advised him to try to purchase him hand gloves and more especially, a rake instead of using his bare hands.

In the countryside, the plastic bags which are not biodegradable let alone, being compostable, do deprive the soil of oxygen and kill off other soil organisms when they are left accumulated as they do. In the towns and cities, they can cause tripping of persons. Additionally, the mere sight of it is an eyesore.

To reduce the rate of littering of plastic bags, I shall suggest as following:

1. In the towns and cities, rubbish bins must be placed in various vantage points where users of “pure water” and those eating food wrapped or served in plastic bags can chuck away the used plastic carrier bags or whatever they call them.

2. The Metropolitan or District Assemblies must have laws in place which are to be enforced to punish anyone found throwing away rubbish, especially used plastic bags, on the ground other than into the provided rubbish bins.

3. A small levy of say one pesewa or two payable by the one being served food or their commodity purchase in a plastic bag could be collected by the government. With the money collected, more people can be employed to clean our towns and cities of the plastic bags to avoid the littering. With the money being charged, many people will stop using the plastic bags at the rate they are currently being used.

In the UK the government has come out with a law placing a surcharge on the use of plastic carrier bags. Each small carrier bag served you when you purchase items from the supermarkets etc., cost you additional five pence. With the introduction of this law since the past one or two years, people’s use of plastic carrier bags has greatly curtailed. People have learnt to reuse same plastic carrier bags for their shopping which attitude was previously not the case. This has reduced the quantity of these non biodegradable plastic carriers hence the quantity of rubbish to be removed by the waste/rubbish-collecting trucks.

On the surface mining (galamsey), it is about time the government abolished it completely. The benefit to the nation as a whole in the creation of jobs for the youth and acquiring the nation money is very negligible or pales completely compared to the damage caused. The galamsey pits left open after use have become death traps into which some people have fallen into their death.

The irreparable damage done to our arable farmlands; destruction of our cocoa and vegetable farms, destruction of our water bodies etc., is so massive. The scale of the ongoing surface mining does pose long term adverse effect on the food and water security of our nation.

The cyanide used to treat their ore to extract the gold which get washed into our rivers does cause health risks and damages our rivers hence badly affecting our source of drinking water.

People should please join me in raising greater concern about the ongoing uncontrolled plastic bags littering and especially, the surface mining (galamsey) where the Chinese have taken the lead and are alleged to have the audacity to inflict fatal injuries on the Ghanaian natives who dare challenge their irresponsible actions which a foreigner may not dare do in China. A stranger doing so in China should not expect to go scot free without suffering a close-range bullet shot to their head. Why should we then encourage them to savage our ecology by closing our eyes to their unscrupulous surface mining in Ghana?

Ghanaians, please let us be farsighted enough to know the repercussions of both the plastic bags littering and the uncontrolled surface mining (galamsey)! A word to the wise is enough.

Rockson Adofo