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Opinions of Sunday, 9 November 2008

Columnist: Asare, Emmanuel

Include issues of the environment in political campaings

It is some few days to the December general elections, and very predictably, politicians have said little on the environment. It the legendary promises of jobs, education and roads that are taking centre stage of campaigns. Political parties appear unanimous in their pledge to further minimise corruption, drug trafficking and of host of other ills troubling our dear land, Ghana. Really, every sector of the economy, it appears is being dealt with in this year’s general election, except issues of the environment.

The worry is, Civil society groups, the media and the numerous NGO’S, who are to hold parties to account for this missing link in campaign debates are also overtaken by events thus keep drumming on these old tired issues. The result is that, this election takes off, yet again, with the environmental element conspicuously absent in campaigns. This development on account of our numerous environmental problems certainly does not augur well for nation building.

Currently, the legendry toll of deforestation on our forest reserves appears not to conclude. Deforestation increases by the hour both in protected and open reserves. Tropical rain forest (by estimate) the worst hit, now is 25% of its original size. At the prevailing rate of tree cutting, (22,000 hectares per annum) the forestry sector, predictably, might die out. In deed, it is worrying that, a significant eco-system service; wetlands deteriorate by the day. In the mistaken name of reclaiming land, exploiting resources, wetlands in the country are literally under “siege”. What is more, Pollution, an act of man has ensured that life in wetlands is effectively neutralised, thus that of the livelihood based on it. In so doing, we have in turn given the upper hand to floods and species invasion and consequently, changing climate. Is it then a surprise to see wetlands such as Songhor, Chemu and Korle lagoon “wear” out?

The point is, for a society where about 70% of livelihood depends on land resources, in an election year, one expected conservation of resources to have informed most discussions, if not debates. Not that this might have drowned fears of a gloomy picture for our space, but then it demonstrates a certain increased willingness of political leadership to improve agriculture yield, sustain rural industrialisation and offer reasonable income levels for the numerous rural households in the country, who predominantly are at the heart of a degraded environment. Equally, a party manifesto which sought to extol the gains to the economy of a well preserved wetlands (thus not worth degrading) would have hit the bull right in the eye. And so would have a manifesto whose underlying theme boldly highlighted environmental sustainability!

As was noted some 50 years ago by Sir. Julian Husley, first Director General of UNESCO, “Environmental issues need to be placed at the top of the political agenda even above defense, the building of hospitals and schools, for it is usually serious environmental problems that threatens efforts to improve standard of living, health conditions and reduced income from agriculture”. Jonathan Allotey, Executive Director of EPA shares in this and recommends “at the national level emphasis should be placed on building capacity on eco-system services and enhancing capacity of countries to have more effective legal regimes and functional institutional structures that contribute to good environmental management”.

The challenge this election year and beyond, therefore is for politicians to reformulate the governance calculus, to incorporate accepted environmental practices, thereby lead the pack in ensuring sustainable environmental health and well being. Surely, the Millennium Development Goals means well for the rural poor, but without a synergy with sound environmental practices, I dare say risked serious setbacks and like Communism would ultimately fail. Let’s have a peaceful election!

Emmanuel Asare is a KNUST, trained Geographer

Address, KS 10077, Kumasi