Tuesday, June 1, 2010

SAHARA DESERT: FEW MILES AWAY TO GHANA ……..But gov’t/policy makers still unconcern

……..But gov’t/policy makers still unconcern
By Joseph Ziem
God asked Adam and Eve to make use of the earth; make use of every living and non-living thing on it. It’s been thousands of years ago since God gave that command. Generations have come and gone, the earth (land and water bodies) have gone through a lot of transformations either through afforestation or deforestation. But the spate of deforestation seems incompatible with afforestation measures being undertaken most at times, especially in Ghana.
Governments had in the past planted millions of tree plants to counter the effects of desertification but due to lack of focus and determination to make such afforestation programmes sustainable, they eventually fizzled out, causing the nation huge sums of money.
It is undisputable that the only way man has used the land which is not pleasing Almighty God, the creator of the Earth perhaps is through irresponsible mining, unconscious deforestation and deliberate misuse of water bodies, and so on.
Ghana as a third world country with majority of her citizens living on one dollar a day, allows multinational companies to mine with impunity. When I say impunity, it means that such companies mine any how without considering the negative effects that their activities will bring to human beings living around their operational areas. In some countries, you dare not criticize the operations of these companies, because you will be killed.
These multinational mining companies spoil our water bodies which serve as our sources of drinking water and also cut down economic trees most particularly in forest reserves areas thereby forcing other plant and animal species to die or relocate to other places or countries. The few farmlands that we depend on are usually turned upside down and when you talk, they will tell you that they have paid money to your government so go for compensation.
Even when there are penalties that are supposed to be meted out to some of these companies for their negligence, because they have been able to “corrupt” most of our government officials, the punishment turn out to be little severe than deterring. And that is why they continue to commit serious environmental offences and get away with it by paying pittance to the state which cannot even construct the Fufulso-Damongo-Sawla road to open up the area for more tourists to visit the Mole National Park.
Now, it is estimated that the desert keeps advancing Southwards from the boundaries or countries such as Mali, Niger, Morocco, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, etc at a speed of 0.8 kilometres per annum (credit: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The situation according to the EPA has assumed such an alarming magnitude that the minimum vegetation cover in some communities in the Upper East Region has already fallen below 5 per cent as against the total ecological cover to support life. And this (desert) could be felt at Garu, Zongiri, Zebila, Paga, Nangodi and among other areas. There are several factors that could be attributed to desertification in the three Northern Regions of Ghana.
According to the EPA, 35 per cent of the total landmass of Ghana is under threat of desertification but current estimates and observations shows that 60 per cent of the landmass is actually under threat, with the North which covers about 41 per cent of the land as the most adversely affected area. Traces of desertification could be seen in neighbouring Bono Ahafo and Ashanti Regions that were hitherto not threatened at all but certain timber species that make up the vegetation of the forest in those areas are currently getting loss each day. Besides, the 35 per cent given by the EPA was as a result of a research in the 70s and therefore, it should be assumable that after a period of over 30 years, there have been considerable changes over the years up to date.
It is widely accepted that Northern Ghana comprising of Upper West, Upper East and Northern Regions, have more than 80 per cent of the nation’s livestock. The area with low rainfall between 750 mm and 1,050 mm per annum and a long dry season of between six to seven months, and without irrigated pasture for livestock to feed on after the rainy season as being done elsewhere in the world, it is palpable that there would be so much pressure on the limited vegetative cover, which sometimes generates confusion or communal conflict between owners of the livestock and farmlands.
The irrepressible bush burning activities for the purpose of either farming or hunting has been a culture of the people in these parts of the country and this has destroyed limited organic matter in the soil, suitable for crop production and has led to food scarcity, hunger and starvation and increased poverty levels among residents.
A sizeable number of trees are fell daily for the purposes of charcoal production or firewood and construction works are also aiding the speedy advancement of desertification and deforestation in the North. Records with the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources and the Forestry Commission indicate that there are about 400,000 hectares of degraded forests across the country.
Nangodi, is a small scale mining (Galamsey) community in the Upper East Region. Any body that visits the area would attest to the fact that, the effects of the desert intrusion in Northern Ghana are alarming and my words alone can’t even describe that.
A recent trip by members of the Media Advocates for Sustainable Environment (MASE) to Nangodi which I took part, unraveled how large tracts of lands “had been turned upside down” because of the existence of insignificant portions of gold in that area. Thanks to KASA-GHANA, (a civil society organization that is working to ensure equitable distribution, judicious and transparent use of natural resources in Ghana) for assisting my colleagues and I to travel to the “poverty” stricken area.
In fact, I saw and was made to understand that there is no alternative economic activity in Nangodi and after the rainy season, the men run down South to engage in labour work in cocoa, cassava, coffee, and oil palm plantations, and other menial jobs to buy other basic necessities and return home when the rains start coming. This was an undigested narrative by some women working at the mining site.
Even though it was weekday and school children were supposed to be in school, I spotted several children of school going age some of whom in school uniforms busily digging for gold together with strong looking men.
The most dangerous aspect of it all was how some of the miners who go into the underground pits take along some of the children down there to assist them or hold torchlight for easy location or accessibility of the yellow rock. Some of the children between 8 and 13 years told me that they do the galamsey work to support their parents to pay their school fees.
But one of them, Ismail Yaam, a primary 4 pupil said his father has passed away and he is living with the mother who does not work. But because he is interested in going to school, he engages in the galamsey business to support his mother and use the rest to cater for his educational needs.
An opinion leader in the Nangodi Community, Samuel Y. Anaaba whom I had a chat with said that the assemblyman of the area had tried on several occasions to stop the children from engaging in the galamsey activities but to no avail. Some of the women also complained that the work is too difficult and risky, and it requires people who are strong and vigilant.
The Nangodi Community is rich in gold and it was a mining centre for the Germans in the 1930s but they ran away during the World War II.
There is no doubt that gold ranks among the most high-tech of metals, performing vital functions in many areas of everyday life. Its unique properties make it useful in medical applications, pollution control, air bags, mobile telephones, laptop computers, space travel, and many other things human beings consider essential to today's society.
Almost all electronic consumer items contain a small amount of gold, which is important to the reliable and efficient functioning of the equipment.
Besides, from its early historical use in ancient cultures, gold is becoming increasingly important in many modern medical treatments, ranging from drugs to precision implants. Gold has been used for many years to successfully treat rheumatoid arthritis. Many experts consider gold to be among the most effective drugs for reducing the inflammation in the joints and so reducing the symptoms of pain and stiffness. The economic significance of this mineral certainly can’t be underestimated.
However, the fact also remains that, the process of extracting gold from the mined ore uses poisonous chemicals which, if not treated properly, can contaminate water supplies and kill living things for miles. This is in addition to the local damage at the mining site itself, i.e., the hole in the mountain or the ground thereby making it impossible to grow our cocoa, coffee, rice, groundnuts, maize, millet, sorghum, etc, again.
Apart from the bush burning, tree felling, overgrazing, illegal or legal gold mining activities, among others that are currently enhancing desertification in the North and for that matter Ghana, another serious extinction that is staring in the face of residents of the Northern Regions is excessive sand winning and gravel mining.
Findings have revealed that most lands in the North which have gravel and sand are being exploited by mostly building and road contractors for construction purposes but no attempts have been made by these contractors to even reclaim the land.
In a recent field trip to some districts in the Northern Region in particular where contractors have devoured the land in search of gravel and sand for construction purposes, I saw large hectares of land being exposed to desertification.
The contractors dig out, collect and leave the land bare without thinking of reclaiming it. The various District Assemblies, Savelugu-Nanton, Tolon-Kumbungu and Tamale Metropolis just to mention a few, where these bad environmental activities are going on, have also reneged on their responsibilities to check the disaster that is looming in their sight. Even though there are bye-laws to ensure good environmental practices by these assemblies, authourities have failed completely to let the laws work and in some situations the laws are not also gazetted to ensure strict enforcement.
For instance, in the Tamale Metropolis, chiefs are reportedly granting permits to contractors to dig gravel and pay just GH¢1.00. After paying this amount, you can collect as many as 100 trips of gravel for whatever purposes if you want. At Datalun, a community classified under the Tamale Peri-urban area, an estimated 25 hectares of land have been used for such activities. Also at Ying in the Savelugu-Nanton District, 5 hectares of land occupied by trees such as dawadawa and shea, have been rendered useless. I was reliably told in my few occasional visits to the area that anytime there is a naming ceremony or wedding in any home in these areas, the men go out and cut down many of these trees for firewood.
At Nawuni, a village by the White Volta River, the activities of sand winners are too dreadful to say and the ecosystem along the river is depleting each day. From Kumbungu in the Tolon-Kumbungu District to Nawuni is 26 miles and the road leading to this area is unmotorable. Travelling in the company of Mr. Salifu Mahama, Project Officer in charge of KASA Environmental programme being implemented by the Ghanaian Developing Communities Association (GDCA) in the district, he said more than 50 trips of sand leave Nawuni a day to Tamale, where a lot of construction works are going on.
According to him, there are more than five sand winning sites at Nawuni, all located along the White Volta River, adding “a trip of sand cost between Gh¢110.00 and Gh¢130.00”.
We stopped at a barrier purportedly erected by the District Assembly and manned by two young men to charge vehicles that carry sand from the area. I asked one of them who was taking down records how much they charge per trip and he told me tipper trucks with single axles pay Gh¢ 1.50p whiles those with double axles pay Gh¢3.00. Though he would tell me his name, he said more than 60 tipper trucks fetch sand from Nawuni in a day.
Ghana, a 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. But the lack of political commitment on the part of our leaders will eventually send us all into our graves unless they change their ATITUDE. Government should be very strict in its monitoring and supervisory roles with regards to land use especially by mining and building or construction companies and the public particularly rural dwellers in order to pre-empt the effects of desertification and save the nation the millions of dollars used in affrorestation programmes each year. Companies or people who flout the country’s environmental laws should not be spared else, the impunity on land degradation would continue FOREVER.
By Ziem L. Joseph Philip (Joseph Ziem)
The writer is a journalist with The Daily Dispatch Newspaper

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