Scientific evidence available to various research institutions in Ghana shows that the three regions of the North– the Upper West, Upper East and Northern– are the poorest areas in the country with the worst degraded environments.
These regions are vulnerable to the estimated effects of climate change and environmental degradation due to many negative environmental practices being perpetuated by the people over the years for economic gains.
For instance, the 1952 Forest Inventory Record of Ghana indicated that the total tree cover in the three regions was 41,600km2, representing 46% of the total land area of the North. 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.
For that reason, it is necessary for the state to commit special resources and attention to address the effects of climate change and environmental degradation which easily trigger violent conflicts and influence the migration of citizens of the north to the forested parts of southern Ghana to seek asylum and greener pastures.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes climate change as the seasonal changes of the weather over a long period of time due to dangerous 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 Ghana. Indeed, these negative human activities still persist today but at an alarming rate 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 also a major threat to the Ozone Layer. Scientists define the Ozone Layer as 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 rays, which are 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.
|2007 Northern Ghana floods|
The aforementioned activities, also affect agriculture, human health, forests and game reserves, water resources, among others due to the negative role CO2 plays in changing weather conditions. The worse outcome of these effects include torrential rains, drought, outbreak of epidemics (CSM), influx of pest, rising temperatures, famine and rising sea levels.
Prominent among flood disasters that occurred recently in Northern Ghana is the 2007 flood 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, more than fifty people killed, over thirty thousand houses collapsed and nearly two hundred thousand metric tons of food crops were destroyed. An estimated 8 million dollars was spent by government on sustainable relief development and another 25 million dollars on direct emergency funding.
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 who depend mainly on subsistence agriculture.
The three regions experience annual rainfall between 645 millimetres and 1250 millimetres followed by a long dry season lasting within six months (November-May). Recent statistics from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture indicated that, rainfall in the Northern Region keeps dropping. It shows that, between 2004 and 2010, rainfall figures have dropped continuously from 1,243.24 millimeters in 2004, 1,066.79 millimetres in 2005, 822.50 millimetres in 2006, 672.61 millimetres in 2007, 829.89 millimetres in 2008 and 865.44 millimetres in 2009 to 364.85 millimetres in 2010. These statistics show a clear sign of manifestation of climate change variability effects in the area.
Effects of Climate Change on Conflicts
As a result of persistent bush burning, wrongful application of chemical fetilisers/weedicides on farms, indiscriminate felling of trees for building and fuel among others in the north, there is insufficient arable lands available now for farming and also to serve as grazing fields for livestock.
The keen interest in farming among citizens and the huge livestock population is now putting enormous pressure on the limited land available. This sometimes leads to the outbreak of ethnic and communal violent conflicts among landowners, farmers and owners of livestock. Examples of recent land related conflicts in Northern Ghana include the Kambatiak and Bankoni Communities in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District, Gushiegu, Bimbila and Zabzugu-Tatale in the Northern Region as well as Bawku in the Upper East Region.
Effects of Climate Change on Migration
The resultant effect of these conflicts is the fleeing of exodus of young men and women including children between the ages of 6 and 30 years to the nation’s big cities such as Accra, Kumasi, Sunyani and Sekondi-Takoradi to seek refuge and also engage in varous kinds of menial jobs to make a living. It is believed that, an estimated fifty-thousand northern youth have migrated to the south in the last few decades to seek asylum or greener pastures.
According to the EPA, 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 such that the minimum vegetation cover in some communities in the Upper East Region, 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. The situation is not different parts of the Upper West and Northern Regions.
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 contributed about 9.6% representing 0.34 tons to emissions in 2008 and 2009 according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Thus, in order to make sure that the situation does not escalate to extreme levels 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.
There is also an urgent need for the creation of EPA District offices to check or regulate human activities on the environment in order to preempt any further destruction.
Government must also make available Liquefied Petroleum Gas currently being produced by the state in all the MMDAs and make it cheaper for many people to buy for domestic purposes. The wide use of LPG in homes would drastically reduce or stop the use of charcoal and wood for cooking.
Furthermore, all MMDAs in the three regions should be compelled to create forest reserves. To ensure sustainability, award schemes could be instituted under the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority and/or the District Assembly’s Common Fund to reward any district that has not experienced bush burning and tree felling for a specific period of time. A cash amount of not less than GH¢1 million could be given to the district fully complying with the directive to execute any development project of their choice.
Finally, irrigation systems should be built in all MMDAs under the SADA initiative and old ones rehabilitated in order to store more water so that the youth who are interested in going into dry season farming/gardening can be engaged. All these measures would one way or the other culminate in reducing conflicts and migration in Northern Ghana.
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.