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Opinions of Saturday, 30 March 2013

Columnist: Ziem, Joseph

Climate Change: Its Effects On Migration, Conflict In Northern Ghana

Climate Change: Its Effects On Migration, Conflict In Northern Ghana

By Joseph Ziem

Scientific evidence available to various research institutions in Ghana have showed that the three regions of the North – comprising Upper West, Upper East and Northern Regions – are considered the poorest areas in the country and also have the most degraded environments. Similarly, they are among regions that are most vulnerable to the estimated effects of climate change due to many negative environmental practices being perpetuated by the people over the years for economic gains.

Accordingly, this therefore makes it somewhat obligatory or necessary for the state to commit special resources and attention to reverse the effects of climate change and the possible migration of the inhabitants to seek greener pastures in other fertile areas or better still forestall conflicts.
Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes climate change as the seasonal changes over a long period of time due to human activities. For instance, charcoal burning, deforestation, bush burning, sand winning, gravel mining, reckless use of agro-chemicals and pollutants from vehicles and heavy industrial machines over a century ago are believed to be the causes of climate change in the country. Indeed, these negative human activities still persist in this modern time and even at alarming rates probably due to increase in human population and development.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) resulting from the excessive use of fossil fuels in auto mobiles, industrial machines, bush burning, among others, is a major threat to the ozone layer. According to Wikipedia, the ozone layer is a layer in Earth's atmosphere which contains relatively high concentrations of ozone (O3). This layer absorbs 97–99% of the Sun's high frequency ultraviolet light, which is potentially damaging to the life forms on Earth. Scientists say, the ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer if the ozone layer is completely eaten up by CO2.

The aforementioned activities, also affect the natural environment (ecosystems), agriculture, human health, forests and game reserves, water sources, among others due to the negative role CO2 play in changing weather patterns or climatic conditions. The worse outcome of these effects include torrential rainfall (severe devastating floods), drought, outbreak of epidemics, high temperatures, influx of pest, famine, rising sea levels and vice versa. In Northern Ghana for instance, there was a memorable flood disaster in 2007 which destroyed the lives of human beings and animals, arable lands, homes, school and public buildings and markets among others. About half a million people were displaced, over fifty people killed, over thirty thousand houses collapsed and nearly two hundred thousand metric tons of food crops were destroyed.

However, a recent survey conducted by the EPA on climate change effects showed that weather temperature in Ghana could rise by one degree celsius and rainfall and runoff water could also sharply reduce the yield of cereals and other food crops. This, certainly, would not augur well for over 60% of residents of the three regions of the North who depend mainly on subsistence agriculture.

Also, there is no denying the fact that, Northern Ghana is one of the places where there is high incidence of bush burning, charcoal production and indiscriminate felling of trees for fuel wood and building purposes. This has led to erratic rainfalls including unpredictable rainfall patterns or poor rainfall – both in volumes and distribution; increase incidence of pests and diseases – both on crops and livestock; low crop yields and extinction of some animals and plants species.

For instance, the 1952 Forest Inventory Record of Ghana indicates that the total tree cover in the three regions of the North was 41,600km2, representing 46% of the total land area of the North. However, by 1996 approximately 40% of the woodland was estimated to have been exposed to acute soil erosion and other human activities, meaning that about 38,000 hectares of tree cover are lost yearly in the three regions of the North.
The three regions contribute about 80% to the entire nation’s livestock production and experience annual rainfalls between 645 millimetres and 1250 millimetres followed by a long dry season lasting between 6 – 7 months (May-October). Available statistics at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture also indicate that there has been rainfall variation in the North in recent years. The average rainfall figures from 2004 to 2010 were 1243.24, 1066.79, 822.50, 672.61, 829.89, 865.44 and 364.85 millimetres, respectively.

Due to the insufficient fertile lands available for farming purposes and creation of grazing fields, the keen interest in farming among residence and huge livestock population has put enormous pressure on the limited land available, thus sometimes leading to the outbreak of tribal and communal violent clashes among landowners, farmers and owners of livestock in most parts of Northern Ghana in recent years. Apart from that, the inadequate number of dams for irrigation purposes during the long dry season period is further worsening food security situation and as the saying goes “A hungry man is an angry man” literally meaning, food insufficiency in the system could breed conflict. In recent times, there have been some land related conflicts at once peaceful areas like Kambatiak and Bankoni in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo, Gushiegu, Bimbila, Zabzugu-Tatale and Bawku in the Upper East Region.

Undeniably, the resultant effect of these conflicts, has forced an estimated 50,000 young men and women including children ranging between the ages of 6 to 30 to sojourn to the nation’s bigger cities such as Accra, Kumasi, Sunyani and Sekondi-Takoradi to engage in various kinds of menial jobs to make a living and also send remittances back home to their families.
Moreover, the EPA states that, the Sahara desert keeps advancing southwards from the boundaries of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso at a speed of 0.8 kilometres per annum. The situation officials say, has assumed a serious magnitude that the minimum vegetation cover in some communities in the Upper East Region in particular, has already fallen below 5% as against the total ecological cover to support life. Regrettably, the effects of the Sahara desert can now be felt in communities such as Garu, Zongiri, Zebila, Paga, Nangodi and Tungu in the Upper East Region.
Ghana is not a major contributor to green house gasses or industrial pollution but, she is one of the most affected by climate change effects. The country contributes about 9.6% representing 0.34 tons in 2008 and 2009 to emissions according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) released recently.

There is therefore no denying the fact that the high incidence of bush burning, indiscriminate felling of trees for fuel or charcoal production and water pollution, among others in Northern Ghana are seriously contributing to the low and erratic rainfalls, rising temperatures/hot weather, drought, low yield in crop production, conflict and migration.

Thus, in order to make sure the situation does not escalate in the near future, there is the need for government through all Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) in Northern Ghana, to as a matter of priority and urgency; enforce all environmental laws in their respective jurisdictions. Anyone caught breaking such laws should be prosecuted and punished severely to serve as deterrent to others.

All Traditional Authorities, Assembly Members, District Police Commands, Fire Service Officials and Anti-bushfire Squads/Committees should be given the mandate to arrest any person or group of persons engaged in bush burning.

There is also an urgent need for the creation of EPA District offices to check or regulate the activities of individuals or local companies in the areas to save the lands or environment from further destruction.

Government must also ensure the availability of Liquefied Petroleum Gas in all the MMDAs and also make it more affordable for residents to drastically reduce or curtail the use of charcoal and tree cutting for fuel wood.

All MMDAs in the three regions should be challenged to adopt the culture of tree planting and stop bush burning. To ensure sustainability, award schemes could be instituted under the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) to reward any district that has not experienced bush burning and tree felling for a period of time and also demonstrated enough in the area of reforestation. A cash amount of not less than GH¢1 million could be given to the winning district to execute any development project of their choice.

Finally, more dams and irrigation systems should be built in all MMDAs under the SADA initiative and old ones rehabilitated in order to store more water for dry season farming/gardening to engage the idling youth who sometimes travel down south of Ghana for menial jobs.

Meanwhile, Ghana joined the international community by signing on to the UNFCCC in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. The Convention entered into force globally on 21 March 1994, and specifically for Ghana on 5th December 1995, three months after Ghana ratified the Convention on 6th September 1995.

At its 25th sitting in November 2002, Ghana’s Parliament passed a resolution to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The final instrument of ratification was sent to the United Nations Headquarters in New York in March 2003 thus allowing Ghana to accede to the Kyoto Protocol and hence becoming a Party to it and entered into force globally on 16 February 2005. The Kyoto Protocol is a regulation that encourages or obliges member countries to reduce carbon emissions to a certain level.

Also, Ghana, which is signatory to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has initiated a number of policies and programmes to arrest the spread of land degradation and desertification. The implementation of the National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP), the Environmental Resources Management Project and others like the land use map, environmental information system, land suitability and capability maps, land and water management, Savannah Resource Management and the National Reforestation Programme are worthwhile. All these should be enforced and effectively implemented in order to save the three regions and for that matter Ghana from becoming a desert country.

The writer is a freelance journalist but regularly writes for The Daily Dispatch Newspaper. Views or comments may be sent to him via +233 207344104.