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Opinions of Thursday, 12 April 2007

Columnist: Adu-Asare, Yaw

The Missing Link in Discourse of Energy Crisis

Endangered Rivers & Streams of Ghana: The Missing Link in Discourse of Energy Crisis

In spite of the numerous contributions towards the social debate about the dynamics of current energy crisis in Ghana, there has not been adequate responsible discussion of the linkage between failure or refusal of society to protect the water basins of rivers and streams suffering from acute degradation.

Let there be no doubt in anybody’s mind that hydro-electric power is cheaper, cleaner and more efficient to produce than other renewable sources of energy, but with a significant caveat: The water level of the river on which a dam is located for the generation of hydroelectricity has to be maintained at a required average minimum height to be practicable and efficient. To put this in a truncated language: The less water in the river with a dam, the smaller the amount of hydroelectricity produced. In this regard, the production of relatively cheap hydroelectricity from Ghana’s Akosombo Dam is dependent on the volume of water in the Volta River on which the dam sits.

It follows from above that the intermittent but recurrent low production of hydroelectricity from Akosombo Dam by Ghana’s Volta River Authority, VRA, has been the outcome of inadequate volume of water in the Volta River.

For further discussion of the issues associated with the critical need for Ghanaians to protect the country’s rivers and streams in particular and the ecological environment, in general, following is an extant excerpt from a recent book, “Ghana, In Search of Illusive Positive Change: A Performance Review of the First Kufuor Administration” which I authored.

“Protecting Water Basins for Hydropower “Thus far, one important lesson from Ghana’s experience with dependency on relatively cheap hydropower remains that building a dam was only as useful as protecting the sources that maintained the required volume of water in the dedicated river.

Intermittent, yet persistent drop in the water level of Volta River that affected negatively the generation of hydropower at Akosombo Dam did not arise only out of adverse occurrences of nature but also by destructive human activities.

In fact, it is clear that human activities such as thinning of natural forest growth through lumbering and deliberate forest burning for farming purposes, contributed to the occurrence of drought.

In Ghana, human activities such as mining, logging and farming along the banks of most rivers contributed towards silting and resultant thinning of volume of water in them.

Within a degree of certainty, the rivers and streams that feed the White Volta River on which sits the Akosombo Dam had not been spared from destructive human activities. In that instance, it was clear that the Kufuor administration did not use the power of the state, through the legislative process, to protect the forests around water basins in Ghana in the interest of maintaining healthy existence of the Volta Lake to ensure requirement for maximum generation of hydropower.

There was no doubt that depletion of Ghana’s forest areas predated the Kufuor administration. To put that in perspective, Prof. Kasim Kasanga, Minister for Lands and Forestry, indicated in 2002 that “over 86% of total land area originally covered by forest has been degraded through bad practices…,” according to a news story. “Wildfires, for example, have been estimated to cause an annual loss of 3% GDP, while the total quantity of logs removed in 1999 amounting to 3.7 million cubic meters was four times the annual allowable cut,” Kasanga stated.

In 2003, the Kufuor administration launched Plantation Development Program to create “100,000 hectares of plantations over a period of five years between 2003 and 2008 during which 60,000 hectares of plantations will be established within degraded forest reserves, 20,000 hectares outside forest reserves and another 20,000 hectares within urban areas.” Yet, Vice President Aliu Mahama lamented that “despite the efforts of some state agencies and non-governmental organizations to protect the country’s forest resources, the government was worried about the extent of illegal logging in and outside of forest reserves by both chainsaw operators and timber concessionaires.”

In Ghana, just as illegal chain saw operators and logging companies depleted the forest cover of rivers, so did mining companies and illegal small-scale mining prospectors contribute to reduction of volume of water in rivers.

There was evidence that farming along the banks of rivers that threatened survival of water basins was illegal in some instances. However, news stories appearing in 2005 made the point that there was no adequate enforcement of laws banning human activities that contributed to ecological degradation and the dwindling of water volume in rivers and streams in Ghana, thereby worsening those conditions.

In 2005, a district forestry manager of the ministry of lands and forestry stated: “Past experiences have demonstrated that bushfires cannot be managed through legislation, byelaws and annual launching of bushfire control educational campaigns alone.” The district manager advised policy makers “to formulate a national policy that would give direction and change peoples attitude to adopt more sustainable approaches in order to minimize the incidence and impact of bushfires.” With respect to the dwindling volume of water in Ghana’s rivers and streams, another public official issued the following ominous warning: “If our water bodies are not checked by enforcing laws to stop farming and sand weaning activities along river banks, pipes will be constructed but they will be empty because there will not be water to carry ….”

Like swift fresh air, in January 2005, “participants at the 56th Annual New Year School, that placed the searchlight on efforts to boost wealth creation in the country, … called on the government to establish special courts that would deal expeditiously with environmental offences. The discussants suggested “… collaboration between the chiefs, opinion leaders, civil society groups, the security agencies, the judiciary and the district assemblies in enforcing environmental laws,” according to a news story. The Annual New Year School is a forum for social discourse in Ghana that attracts individual social actors with expertise in their fields of endeavor.

The concerns raised by the Annual New Year School participants supported the position of the book that lack of enforcement of environmental laws, with respect to protecting the water basins of rivers in Ghana, had contributed to propagation of dwindling water volume that threatened operational capacity of hydroelectric generation. In that regard, it was fair to conclude that lack of adequate action on the environmental front by the Kufuor administration, an indication of inefficient governance, contributed to the high cost of producing electricity in Ghana.” (Pages 92 to 93).

“While in opposition, the New Patriotic Party criticized omissions in the operations of the energy sector in Ghana under the NDC government it was fighting to replace. NPP 2000 Manifesto (“Agenda for Positive Change”) stated the following as part of the party’s expected energy policy: “The NPP government will put into operation a Scientific Energy Policy which certainly includes construction of the Bui Dam and bringing on stream rapidly the utilization of Ghana’s own gas supplies. “The NPP will … ensure that once again the poorest people in Ghana will have an incentive and the means to change from destructive charcoal and wood burning to cooking by gas. “The petroleum sector will be a prime field for the application of the NPP’s policy of Positive Partnership. The world petroleum industry has more than enough resources of capital and technology to develop the oil and gas potential that undoubtedly exists in Ghana. An NPP government will build a businesslike partnership with the international petroleum industry to our mutual benefit.”” (Page 72).

In the context of ongoing energy crisis in Ghana, it is reasonable for one to suggest that NPP’s so-called “Scientific Energy Policy” would be efficacious only if it pays attention to protecting the water basins of the country’s rivers and streams. Thermal production of electricity is expensive, in the long-term.

By Yaw Adu-Asare
The writer is the author of: “Ghana, In Search of Illusive Positive Change: A Performance Review of the First Kufuor Administration.”

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