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Opinions of Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Columnist: Phillip Kyeremanteng

Environmental Protection: A letter to the government of Ghana

Protecting our environment from galamsey should be the moral duty for everyone Protecting our environment from galamsey should be the moral duty for everyone

Dear President,
I am writing as chartered environmental scientists, conservationists and concerned citizens to advise you to do all in your power to protect our natural and built environment.

Government has done a good job in addressing the public needs of the people, whether it be via job creation, education, healthcare and what have you. Nevertheless, I feel that more work should be focused on environmental protection.

Everyone depends on the environment but resources we use and the air we breath are all being adversely impacted by our carelessness towards the environment. Majority of Ghanaians do not know how important it is to keep our environment clean, which has created many problems that jeopardise the sustainability of our future. I believe that with the intervention of the government, our environment can be improved.

It is the beginning of all development and provides opportunities for people and society to achieve their hopes and goals. Due to the importance of the environment to the sustainability of life on earth it, our environment must be protected.

It is known that so many factors contribute to environmental degradation in Ghana. Some of the causes of environmental degradation can be linked to poverty, low environmental awareness, lack of access to information and public participation, poor enforcement, lack of political will and weak institutional capacity, bush fires, poor agricultural practices, and illegal mining operations.

Most of the factors causing environmental degradation are anthropogenic or human driven. I am very certain people damage the environment because they come from cultural backgrounds that make them naturally environmentally insensitive or due to some structural failures.

Protecting our environment from illegal mining activities, improper waste disposal, deforestation, flooding etc., should be the moral duty for everyone.

The air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil we walk on are all the natural environment resources we take for granted. Having said these, we are not showing concern enough for our natural and built environment, resulting in risky behaviours and practises.

However, I believe strongly that the government's intervention could play an important role in developing strategies and raising environmental protection awareness.

Investing in environmental education in schools, funding environmental protection agency, ministry of water and sanitation, NGOs etc are just some of the strategies which the government can employ to propagate the message and encourage people of Ghana to act.

A shift in mentality is necessary. If people begin to see protecting the environment as their personal obligation, then perhaps they will become more active in doing so.

The government should also take a hands-on approach by investing in sustainable solid and liquid waste collection and disposal. Furthermore, investing in renewable energies by installing more solar panels and other fit for purpose green energy.

By funding new scientific research and development, the government will allow for positive change in the right direction.
Regarding illegal mining or galamsey operators should be brought together under a new agency which would assist and advise them on the environmental impacts of their operations.

The government and regulatory agencies must strictly enforce the law which makes mining without license a criminal activity liable for prosecution and imprisonment.

Government should review and develop a policy on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining and make it very important in the national economic agenda. Government should emphasize infrastructural development, that is building roads, schools and setting up of industries to provide alternative livelihoods for Mining Communities.

The Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703) Section 83 states that only Ghanaians must be engaged in small scale mining, hence Government and its regulatory agencies should identify non-Ghanaians currently engaged in small scale mining contrary to the law and prosecute them according to the law.

The rights and interests of landowners and local communities regarding economic benefits accumulating from the use of land should be guaranteed during the entire mining process.

Small-scale mining should be recognised as a significant contributor of rural livelihoods that has the potential to alleviate poverty and be a tool for sustainable development. Therefore, adequate technical, financial, economic, and organisational assistance or support should be provided to enhance small-scale mining operations in Ghana.

Substitute livelihood programmes to improve the economic condition of communities should form an integral part of the planning for any mining activity especially in small-scale mining. Small-scale mining should be reserved for nationals and measures should be put in place to improve the sector. Reforming existing laws and regulation tailored to the current situation is important.

It's the obligation of the government to protect the health and well-being of people.

This same policy should also apply to the environment. After all, if the environment continues to deteriorate, so will our health. This is not far from happening if we continue this trajectory and one day, nature will begin wreaking havoc on our own state of well-being and our weak infrastructure.

In fact, the pollution in the air is already taking a toll on people's lungs, especially those in poor communities and will only worsen over time if something is not done about it as a matter of urgency. The situation in Ghana should be treated as an 'Environmental Emergency'- an urgent matter that should be a top concern on the government's part.

Making sure our water is clean and eliminating waste in the community are just some of the smaller ways that the government can help generate great change. By doing so, it is setting a standard for the way the community should be and the way it should care for the environment.

The government, above all else is most capable in instilling acceptable behaviour, educating the public on the importance of protecting the environment and investing in new scientific innovations that will create a greener, healthier environment. Thus, leading to a sustainable future that promotes economic development and respect for the environment.