Feature Article of Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Columnist: Fordjour, Kwadwo

Presidential Election: Lack of Environmental Vision and Policy

Ghana’s 2012 Presidential Election: Lack of Environmental Vision and Policy

Ghanaians vote in less than a month to elect a president to lead the nation into a middle class society by 2015. While more has been said and promised about investment in human capital, jobs, infrastructure, industrialization, etc, there has been no discussion about how to protect Ghana’s fragile environment and natural resources for the future generation.

Ghana’s population has increased by 20% since independence from 5 million to 25 million people. The vast majority of the growth is occurring in the urban areas. By 2015 50% or more of the population of Ghana will live in cities and their suburbs. The reason for such growth is migration from the rural areas for better livelihood.

The urban migration into Accra/Tema, Kumasi and Takoradi metropolitan areas has created significant environmental, public health, natural resources and food supply problems. Urban sprawl is converting more farmlands to residential uses; water and sanitation facilities are inadequate. Less than 11% of Ghanaian homes have toilets. Supply of electricity is not reliable because demand far outpaces supply. The air in these metropolitan areas is filled with poisonous gases from old diesel vehicles stuck in traffic all they long. Human and solid waste management is abysmal. Rivers, streams and marshlands in Ghana are disappearing at an alarming rate from siltation.

Urban and Local Planning: Ghana has deplorable and unacceptable town and country planning policies and practices. Without effective urban planning and management in Ghana, the Millennium Development Goals will be mirage and not be attained. The Ghana vision 2015 to attain middle –class economic status may remain a dream. None of the 385 towns and cities in Ghana was planned or had structural plan or capacity to implement the plan. Out of 24 accredited Universities in Ghana only one, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) offers courses in planning. Most of the towns and cities lack planning staff and logistics. Only 61 of the 166 Metropolitan areas have token presence of a Town Planning Department. Besides Kwame Nkrumah’s vision for Tema, Ghana has never had a long range (20 plus years) integrated comprehensive growth management, land use and transportation planning to support the population growth in any political or geographic jurisdiction.

What is the role of government in ensuring sustainable environmental protection? What does that mean for planners and the cities for which they work? What does the next generation of government look like? Hornick, after providing a brief history on the part government played in building and growing urban America in the early to mid-20th century, noted that the important role of government in the current revitalization of cities shouldn’t be overlooked.

Urban Renewal: It is important to have a comprehensive analysis of our cities and older inner-ring suburbs to provide incentives to renovate and revitalize them than encourage urban sprawl. Like many developed western nations are doing, Ghana needs to remake our many shoddily-built, far-off exurbs into denser, more connected, more livable communities. Our political and business leaders continue to look backwards, wasting precious time and resources on futile attempts to resuscitate the same dysfunctional system of transportation, sprawl, and inefficient and energy-wasting ways of life that has brought about environmental pollution.

Environmental Education: For the past decade much effort has been expended in the global level to achieve sustainable development. In spite of conducting number of conferences, seminars and world summits towards the protection of environment, the present world is environmentally less sustainable than in the previous years. In order to achieve the acceptable level of global environmental sustainability, the citizens must be empowered with essential knowledge and information. Then only they can exert pressure on their elected representatives to develop and implement policies for securing environmental sustainability. The awareness among the public and industrial generators has to be created and motivated by the updated techniques and incorporating the innovative and implementable solutions to reform our economy. These can be achieved through environmental education.

Climate Change and Global warming: “It’s global warming, STUPID…If hurricane Sandy doesn’t persuade Americans (in this case the World) to get serious about climate change, nothing will” Paul M. Barrett wrote in November 5 Bloomberg Business Week Magazine. The Changes in the frequency and severity of droughts and floods could pose challenges for farmers and ranchers. Stressors such as population growth may magnify their effects. In Ghana and other developing countries, adaptation options like changes in crop-management or ranching practices or improvements to irrigation are more limited than in the industrialized nations. Food shortages in Ghana can pose humanitarian crises and national security concerns. Other effects of climate change and global warming include frequency of flooding and its associated diseases and catastrophe as well as economic impacts.

Renewable Energy: Ghana is endowed with 12 hours of sunlight each day and all year round. Also Ghana, like the rest of the world, has read and heard about solar powered energy technologies. Solar energy is now practicable and affordable. Yet, Ghanaians are complaining about power shedding. It is about time the Government developed an energy policy that include renewable energy from solar, wind, human and food waste, etc. Our Universities should start aggressive pursuit of renewable and alternative energy sources research.

Environmental Regulation: Environmental regulation is dependent not only on the agencies that enforce it but also on the dynamics of government, business and society. Environmental protection is not only good for the environment and human health. It is also a good business. The Triple Bottom Line concept developed by John Elkington has changed the way businesses, nonprofits and government measure sustainability and the performance of projects or policies. Beyond the foundation of measuring sustainability on three fronts—people, planet and profits—the flexibility of the TBL allows organizations to apply the concept in a manner suitable to their specific needs. The concept of the triple bottom line can be used regionally by communities to encourage economic development and growth in a sustainable manner. This requires an increased level of cooperation among businesses, nonprofit organizations, governments and citizens of the region. (Timothy Slaper and Tanya Hall). The success and performance measures of the mining and oil industries should be in alignment with the TBL principle of people, planet and profit as all are equally important for business success.

Ghanaians should demand that the next presidential debate moderated by the Institute of Economic Affairs ensures the presidential candidates have the opportunity to lay out their vision for dealing with the growing degradation of the national treasures and the environment. Ghana needs policies and legislations that address the serious environmental challenges. We need sustainable developments that are based on the triple bottom line principle; deal with climate change and global warming; manage growth that ensures clean environment and healthy livable communities for generations to come.

Kwadwo O. Fordjour, AICP, fordjourk@msn.com Ghana Environmental and Community Development Foundation 206-234-1624