Every year #AccraFloods trends because, well, Accra always floods. Even when it drizzles. And sometimes Accra gets all the national attention forgetting that other areas in Ghana flood too. So I decided to put together our flood league table so far. A premier league of natural disaster. These are instances where rains have caused either flooding, destruction, loss of life and/or displacement of citizens. It’s a national issue we need to address. Every citizen matters, not just those in Accra.
There have been several media reports about tidal waves wiping away communities and leaving thousands of families homeless. This situation is a very sad one because science and technology has offered us tools and means to ensure human lives and properties are protected in the face of such natural disasters.
Photo Credit : Pinterest – SeanDavey
Before we detail why tidal waves are rampant in the past few years, let us take a look at climate change; the number one cause tidal wave and the irregular weather patterns, as well as why we all ought to be concerned about it.
Climate change refers to a long-term change in the earth's climate or the change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns, especially a change due to an increase in the average atmospheric temperature over a long period of time, usually forty (40) years or more.
The Earth’s atmosphere has a natural greenhouse effect where certain gases; water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone in the atmosphere allow the sunlight to enter but absorb the heat radiation.
These gases absorb the heat and keep the average surface temperature on Earth around 14°C. Without the natural greenhouse effect, the Earth’s average surface temperature would be around -19°C. This ensures the important role of keeping the Earth's surface warm and able to sustain life of humans, plants and animals.
There are many influences over the Earth’s climate, which can be distinguished into natural and anthropogenic (human or manmade) factors.
Since the beginning of the 20th century (January 1901), scientists have been observing a change in the climate that cannot be attributed to any of the natural influences of the past but rather human induced change in the climate – majorly from the burning of fossil fuel.
Fossil fuels include: coal, oil, oil shales, tar sands, natural gas, and peat.
How is climate change related to tidal wave?
Climate change is increasing average temperatures in almost every part of the world. The increase in temperatures, particularly, at the north and south poles are causing the ice sheets to melt. The melting ice at the Polar Regions descends into the oceans which increases the volume of water in our oceans.
Photo Credit: BBC
Accordingly, the increasing oceans turn to cause severe flooding and high tidal waves during wet seasons in the tropics (like Ghana), sub-tropics and few temperate regions.
Fuveme; one of Ghana's coastal villages. Photo Credit: BBC
In Ghana, sea level rise will directly affect almost all coastal communities in the southern regions of the country.
Metropolitans, Municipals and District Assemblies (MMDAs) such as Cape Coast, Sekondi-Takoradi, Accra (especially coastal communities), Komenda/Edna/Eguafo/Ebirem, Ahanta West, Keta South, Efutu, Nzema East, Ellembelle and many others will be directly be through flooding and coastal erosion.
Coastal communities with sandy beaches stand a higher risk of being affected, especially, if dwellers indulge in practices such as sand wining, a menace which is rampant in coastal communities in Ghana.
Photo Credit: Ghana Live
Indirectly, inland communities would be affected through salt intrusion – as salty water pushes towards inland.
Ecologically, inter-tidal species will be greatly affected and this will eventually affect the species distribution, abundance and diversity within the aquatic ecosystem. This implies that many different types of habitats, with many types of animals, such as starfish, sea urchins, and numerous species of coral will be greatly affected.
There are however measure people living in these tidal-wave-prone communities can take to protect themselves and their families.
First of all, community folks should stop building so close to the beaches and shoreline.
Photo Credit: Citifmonline
Also, for areas such as Accra and Cape Coast, fishermen and community leaders should desist from fetching beach sand for building. Sand Wining is one of the causes of coastal erosions in recent decades for cities like Cape Coast and Accra. Additionally, town folks should protect and plant more mangroves to help curb the rate of erosion.
Photo Credit: Thinglink
The government can create a vigilant task force which would be designated to prosecute individuals who practice sand wining and cutting down mangroves as firewood.
Additionally, a sea defence could be put be in place for the most vulnerable communities – however, such engineered structures are very expensive and might not be available for all coastal communities.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia
The urgent response now, is to put a stop to some unfriendly practices that quickens the occurrence of coastal disasters.
Are we going to wait for more innocent lives and properties to be lost before we take action?
What do you think is Ghana’s best move forward to prevent more communities from being washed away by the sea?
Written by Rachel Hormeku with consultation from Joshua Amponsem (Environmental Activist).
Ghana has serious environmental problems. Chronic ones. We are one of the
1. Closed Gutters:
Tell me you haven’t ever wondered why our gutters aren’t covered. At least it has crossed your mind once that the gutters should be covered. After all, it makes sense, right? Our gutters are full of litter, especially plastic. These gutters always get choked and every year there are floods that usually start with the gutters overflowing. In some areas, it’s actually a ritual that as soon as its starts raining, everyone must put their rubbish into the gutters. (Here’s video to prove it). Why? Because “the water will carry it away.” But away to where? To the ocean eventually. Hence our polluted beaches. And then when the gutters aren’t able to ‘carry it away’, it floods. And then sometimes it floods so bad that cars end up falling into these same gutters. Can’t we just cover them? We spend almost all the time during clean-up exercises emptying gutters. Imagine if nothing was inside them to start. When a new road is being constructed, its automatic that the gutters running alongside (if any are provided) will be open. Why can’t they be covered? Wouldn’t that make all our lives easier? So simple, yet so impossible it seems.
2. Wastewater Treatment
In case you didn’t know, every Ghanaian (and foreigner living in Ghana) participates in open defecation. You may be thinking that’s impossible because you don’t shit in the open. But your shit eventually ends up in the open. When you use your toilet at home (or a public toilet), it is flushed into a septic tank (or soak away). When that tank gets full, a septic truck comes and empties it. And then it’s dumped, depending on where you live, straight into the ocean or at a dumping site where it isn’t treated. So our oceans are full of both plastic and shit. Only 1% of the liquid human waste (feces) in Ghana is treated. So yes, indirectly, we are all open defecators. How hard would it be for us to have wastewater treatment? There have been several promises of infrastructure for this but nothing has turned up yet. So it isn’t surprising, that cholera is a yearly thing since essentially, one gets cholera by ingesting infected shit, either through water or food. If we keep dumping it in the open, the cycle will never end.
3. Building Address System
How many times have you struggled to find a location you are visiting for the first time although you’ve been given directions and a google map location? It has happened to me several times and I’m sure you’ve experienced that too. So how much more difficult would it be for sanitation service providers, sanitary inspectors and any other players to locate houses, understand city layouts and plan appropriately for sanitation infrastructure? To aid us in this struggle there was a directive in 2013 that all streets in Ghana should be named and SOME of the streets have been named, but not all. But even if all the streets were to be named, without building numbers the struggle is still quite intense. If a building is in offense of creating an environmental hazard (like how some companies discharge their liquid waste directly into the open gutters instead of treating it) and that business is sanctioned, the most that can be put on that sanction form is the name of the company, and possibly the name of the manager. So if the next day the manager is changed and they change their company signboard, who will be held responsible for that public nuisance? You see where I’m going? So to me the building address system is a no-brainer.
4. Recreational Spaces:
Name 5 public parks in Ghana. I’ll dash you 100 cedis if you can name 5 public parks that are functional. Difficult isn’t it? (I know there’s the new Rattray, I love it but that’s only one). It is known worldwide that public spaces of recreation such as parks enhance public health and increase environmental sensitivity. Young people in urban places in Ghana hang out at overcrowded malls and betting houses for lack of public spaces. Most of our beaches are either private resorts or party venues. In essence, there is no space for Ghanaians to appreciate their environment, to adore what we have. We need many more recreational spaces. Don’t you agree?
5. Public Dustbins:
Did you know that its illegal to litter? According to the law you can be fined or imprisoned for littering. Of course this law isn’t enforced but imagine if it was. Have you ever found yourself with a piece of garbage after consuming a snack and wishing there was a litter bin you could use? Where do you put your waste when you aren’t at home or work/school? Do you resist the urge to litter and keep it in your bag or pocket? Or do you drop it on the floor of the trotro? Do you make sure no one is looking and drop it on the ground? And if you do are we in the position to blame you? Some believe that whether there are bins or not, you shouldn’t litter. Some too believe that if there are no public dustbins, no one has the right to incriminate someone for littering. What do you think?
So imagine a Ghana where all drains are covered, wastewater is treated, you know your actual address, you can go to the park with your family or friends whenever you please and there are public dustbins anytime you are in town. Wouldn’t that be a lovely Ghana? So why don’t we have them? Your guess is as good as mine (my guess: It isn’t politically expedient for the politicians). Do you agree with me? What else do you think should have been added to this list? I’m curious to know your views.
Next, I’ll cover 5 Laws We All Know Ghana’s Environment Needs But Never Seems to Get, because its not just infrastructure but also lawlessness that has landed us where we are.
As a practitioner in the waste management industry in Ghana, I realize that most citizens don’t understand how waste management is actually supposed to work. I am asked the same questions all the time. “Which company is responsible for my waste pick-up?” “Who do I talk to if someone is burning rubbish in my neighborhood?” “What do I do if the rubbish isn’t picked up on time?” So I think its best I write on it. There are some critical things you should know. I will be describing the case for Accra. It is basically the same for most assemblies in the Greater Accra Region and all other major cities in Ghana (Kumasi, Tamale, Sekondi-Takoradi, Tema).
THE WASTE BELONGS TO THE AMA (or KMA or TMA or whichever)
Solid Waste Management is the responsibility of the Ministry of Local Government (MLGRD). They have an Environmental Sanitation and Health Directorate (EHSD)[@MLGRDEHSD, follow them on twitter]. That’s the law. (The Local Government Act, 1993 (ACT 462, Section 79). In each vicinity that Ministry is represented by the assembly. So if you live within the official city limits of Accra, that’s the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA). If you live within the official city limits of Secondi-Takoradi then it’s the Secondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly (STMA). If you are not sure which assembly you live in, check this link to see where you belong.
So the waste belongs to the assembly the second you generate it. In other words, the waste belongs to the government. It’s the government’s job to discard the waste properly to ensure good public health and environmental sustainability. They can decide to do this themselves (which happens in many small districts) or they can pass the responsibility to a private waste management company through an agreement.
NOT EVERY WASTE MANAGEMENT COMPANY IS ZOOMLION
Due to the size and sheer population within Accra, the assembly has divided it into sub-metros to decentralize governance. This also decentralizes waste collection. Each sub-metro has given a different waste management company the responsibility of waste collection within it. There are at least ten accredited waste management companies within the AMA alone. Not just Zoomlion (the company everyone thinks does everything). Someone might think I’m hating because I don’t work for them but the truth of the matter is, every company that has an obligation needs to be held responsible when they fail and praised when they do well. It’s the only way things will get better. If you are not sure which company is responsible for your waste management, check with your local assembly.
COMPANIES ONLY CARRY AWAY WASTE (AND YOUR MONEY)
The private waste management companies only have three responsibilities- Carry your rubbish away, dump it in the landfill and collect fees for doing so. Under the contract agreements that they’ve signed, this is essentially what the AMA has mandated them to do. Nothing else.
THE JOB OF THE AMA
And so everything else is the job of the AMA. It’s the AMA’s job to make sure the gutters are clean (they can decide to give that out as a contract too if they wish). It’s the AMA’s job to educate citizens on how to keep their environments clean. It’s their job to enforce sanitation laws and prosecute offenders. It’s their job to regulate and monitor the private companies that they have contracted to make sure they do the right thing. Each sub-metro has a District Cleansing Officer (DCO) and a District Environmental Health Officer (DEHO). The AMA has a Waste Management Department. It’s also their job to make sure that the system works and works well.
WHY THE SYSTEM HAS BLASTED
When I say blasted, I mean failed. An epic fail. I do admit that the way this system is structured has a history and is a big step from the system that used to exist. But the problem with involving the private sector is that the assembly has essentially gone to sleep. All the regulation and education and enforcement have ceased and all that remains is the collection and “jossing” of people for money. This means that companies get away with not performing, citizens get away with breaking the law, and your city looks like a huge rubbish dump. And that is what has necessitated the monthly National Sanitation Days. If the system worked as it should, those days wouldn’t be necessary – or at least not so tedious. That also means there’s little room for innovation and improving the system for better results because everything is dysfunctional. But it’s better than no system at all, isn’t it?
So. Now you know how waste management works in cities in Ghana.
I hope these points will make things much clearer. And if they don’t, leave a comment. Ask a question. I will gladly answer.
Friday, November 19 was World Toilet Day, a day to ‘draw attention to the global sanitation crisis’ and in Ghana this is a big crisis. Just to put your mind in perspective (in case you’ve been living under a stone) only 1 in 7 Ghanaians have access to a household toilet. When all the nations of the world got together in 2000, 8.4% of Ghana’s population had access to improved sanitation. The Millennium Development Goal (MDG 7c) committed to then was for us to reach 54% access by 2015. Here we sit today at 16% access. In 2008 we stood at 12.4%. Which means we moved up by less than 4% in 7 years. Clap for Ghana.
The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (which is the government body responsible for sanitation) held this year’s celebration (if you can call it that) at Bukom, a densely populated coastal community in Accra. At first I thought it was befitting since only 6% of residents in Bukom have household toilets. Drawing attention to the necessity for sanitation there made sense since they are 10 percent below the national average. But when I thought of it further it seemed quite ironic that Ghana has been celebrating this day since 2009 but we have made such a crawl as a nation to access. A toilet day celebration in a land of no toilets.
These are the ironies that stood out to me at the celebration:
- 1 in 7 Ghanaians has a household toilet: That statement won’t leave my head. Only 1 out of every 7 persons in Ghana, the so-called ‘gateway to Africa’, ‘lower-middle income country’ with that fast growing economy. That means that we don’t even see having a toilet in our houses as a sign of progress because our economy is growing faster than our access to toilets. The MDG specifically said “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation”. According to the UN, this basic sanitation is basic, improved sanitation. That means public toilets don’t count because of their ability to spread disease. KVIPs do count if they aren’t shared. So in essence a household toilet. 84% of us don’t have toilets in our houses. Christ.
- Every kid knows what a flying toilet is: Every kid in Bukom knows what a flying toilet is. You know what a flying toilet is, right? When someone eases them self into a black plastic bag then tosses it over the wall and pretends nothing happened. Yeah, that. The guest primary school from Bukom put on a play at the toilet day celebration showing scenes of the right and wrong way to use the loo and the first scene spoke volumes. A girl woke up from her sleep in the middle of the night and told her friend she had a tummy ache and needed to ease herself. The friend hands her a plastic bag to do her thing and then they toss it outside and go back to sleep. The relieved girl remarked “Oh thank you, you’ve saved me”. EH?!
- Cholera is still killing us: Of course the politicians were present for this ‘celebration’. Most notable was the deputy minister for Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD), Nii Lante Vanderpuye (who also happens to be the Member of Parliament for the Odododiodoo constituency which includes Bukom. Coincidence? I think not). There was also the mayor of Accra, Alfred Oko Vanderpuije (aspiring MP for Ablekuma South which starts just around the corner from Bukom in Korle Gonno) and the Director for the Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate at the MLGRD, Naa Lenason Demedeme. During the Mayor’s speech he spoke of how the yearly occurrence of cholera is still with us but the numbers have reduced and fewer people died this year. I wonder why anyone should be dying from cholera at all? But if 84% of us share toilet facilities then there you have it.
- Ablekuma South is the home of Lavender Hill: The area nicknamed ‘Lavender Hill’ is that hidden area on the seaside in Korle Gonno where there is the continuous dumping of raw, untreated, fecal sludge (human waste). For those of us in the 16% accessing improved sanitation, our waste isn’t treated but just dumped into the sea to feed the fishes. So we practice an indirect open defecation of our own. And that’s our Mayor’s aspired constituency. He has made statements for years promising to close it down, he’s even been taken to court by the Environmental Protection Agency over that ‘hill’ yet it can’t seem to disappear. What were we celebrating at World Toilet Day?
- Laptops are more important than toilets: So remember the play I mentioned earlier by the primary school children? It was a very good play I must admit. The kids acted well and we all got the point. At the end of the celebration, to congratulate these kids for such a grand performance, Hon. Vanderpuye (the MP, not the Mayor) promised the two star students a new laptop. Laptops are great and all but honestly I was expecting him to promise them each a toilet. I mean, it was World TOILET Day. If the kids have laptops to further their education but cholera kills them along the way, what’s the point? But these are politicians. Who’s going to vote for them because of a toilet, right?
And with that the World Toilet Day Celebration ended. Another year, another repetition of the sad statistics, another time for development partners to try again to get us Ghanaians to use the loo the right way. There have been so many projects and schemes yet progress is so slow. This year there were introduced the GAMA Sanitation Innovation Fund and the Sanitation Challenge for Ghana. These are supposed to be two innovative approaches to get us to make progress in this sanitation fight. Read more and see how you can get involved. We can’t afford for Ghana to remain a land or no toilets.
Picture Source: Pulse.com.gh
Illegal small-scale mining, popularly known in Ghana as “galamsey”, is a perfect candidate for sensational headlines. The association of 3,000 cases of teenage pregnancy in the Amansie West District of the Ashanti Region was only a single line item in a catalogue of the 2014 district's health statistics but you wouldn't notice that from the cover story of February 9th, 2015 edition of The Chronicle. A Google search for the word “galamsey” on the same day returned over 315,000 items.
Beyond the sensationalism, galamsey remains a major problem in Ghana. The activities of galamsey operators have imposed huge cost on people and the environment. The documented negative impact of galamsey are varied but mostly fall into the areas of:
1. Slavery and Child Labour (here is a list of copious headlines and stories)
2. Environmental Pollution (this story provide a broad enough overview ),
3. Deforestation ( this story motivated me to write this blog post), and
4. Loss of revenue to the State (At the time of writing this post, Joy Fm, a local radio station in Ghana had just reported the small scales miners -licensed and galamsey – in total account for 34% of gold production in Ghana. They are most likely responsible for a larger proportion of the environmental threat).
Everyone is clear on the impact of galamsey. We all seem to agree that it causes more harm than good. You would think that would mean we would put concrete, definitive steps to end the practice. Ironically, public discussions are full of conspiracy theories. Political parties – entities that have taken turns in providing leadership in dealing with illegal mining – take turns to accuse each other of funding, supporting, condoning, and ignoring the galamsey menace. Successive governments did very little to address the situation until things came to a head in 2013 when the ill-gotten wealth began causing a rift between Chinese galamsey operators and the local community. A Government of Ghana task force moved in to it shut down, and force out the flood of Chinese (and in some cases Nigerians) miners that were taking over illegal mining in Ghana. Suddenly, what was predominantly an industry problem became a national security threat and a global geo-political talking point.
Picture Source: Citifmonline.com
While significant discussions and efforts are being made to regularized small-scale mining, regulate the sector and ensure strict compliance with safety standards, galamseyers are charging ahead of government efforts and it seems it will take quite a while to reign in their operations.
Here is where the story gets a little interesting. Two new developments may be reshaping our understanding of the magnitude of the impact of galamsey and the potential levers that may be driving it.
1. A recent study by researchers at the University of Puerto Rico discovered something close to what I may call the economic incentive for increased galamsey operations. The researchers examined the tropical forest of South America and were able to establish a scientific case for the impact of rising gold prices on the rate of deforestation in the region. In other words, the rapid increase in gold prices over the past decades is the perfect incentive for increasing the rate of mining. Galamsey operators now find it profitable to try and extract for the precious metal. Considering the fact that small-scale miners were found to be more harmful to the soil and to water sources, the higher price of gold is a threat to environmental sustainability.
2. On the other side of the equation, over the past 5 months, there have been layoffs by large-scale mining companies in Ghana. Newmont laid off over 450 workers in September 2014, followed by Anglogold Ashanti with over 4,000 layoffs and Perseus Mining with 48 layoffs. This has been attributed, firstly, to a fall in gold prices from the recent highs of over 1,600 per ounce to just around 1,200 per ounce in the latter part of 2014 and secondly, the power crisis in Ghana.
The dynamics are shifting in favour of galamsey and the footprint of their operations will go up implying a mining industry that is less environmental friendly. Perhaps this will motivate stakeholders to act. Perhaps not.
However, if the regulated, standardized, relatively environmentally compliant large scale gold mining operations in Ghana are scaling back operations while galamseyers are scaling up (gold prices are still relatively high compared to the 1990s), what does this hold for the environment in Ghana?
Can anything be done to address this?
We would like to hear your views on the subject.
There was a time in Ghana when rearing rabbits was the coolest thing to be involved in as a young boy. I remember we used to get fodder from a part of the neighborhood called ‘rice farm’ in Tema, Community 12. This place was a large swampy tract of land which was home to several types of grass, shrubs, birds, fish and animals. As kids, we just saw this place as a wonderland where there was an abundance of free rabbit food, fish to catch and tortoises to capture. Little did we know that the area served a vital ecological purpose.
View of Sakumono lagoon showing Community 3 SSNIT housing estate. Photo Credit: www.panoramio.com
I have grown up to know this this ‘rice farm’ was an extension of the Sakumo RAMSAR site that stretches from the Sakumono lagoon to parts of Tema West. It breaks my heart to tell you that as of today, that ‘wonderland’ we knew from the 90’s is no more as a result of human activity and rapid urbanization. Our ‘rice farm’ has been replaced with mansions.
As we commemorate World Wetlands Day in the month of February, it is just important that we understand the very vital role wetlands play in our ecosystem. One way of doing this is to raise awareness on the functions of wetlands which is highlighted later in this blog post.
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (RAMSAR Convention, 1971) came into force in 1971.Ghana ratified this convention on 22 June 1988. Per the convention’s criteria, in Ghana there are six sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance with a surface area of 178,410 hectares. These are Muni-Pomadze, Densu Delta, Sakumo, Songor, Keta lagoon and Owabi wildlife sanctuary. A major obligation under the Convention is the implementation of the principle of ‘wise use’ of the wetland resources, where "wise use" is understood to mean “their sustained utilization for the benefit of humankind in a way compatible with the maintenance of the natural properties of the ecosystem” .
This is why we gotta appreciate the work of the swamps
Wetlands have a myriad of roles they play for humanity and our environment. Increased research has come to establish their importance and many scholars have documented such findings. The ecosystem services derived from wetlands include;
– Water Purification -Wetlands remove sediments, nutrients, toxic substances and other pollutants in surface run-off water thereby improving the quality of water.
– Habitat -Wetlands provide habitat for high concentrations of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrate species. I remember I captured a small tortoise from one of our escapades at rice farm.
– Maintenance of the water table – Wetlands facilitate the movement of large volumes of water into the underground aquifer resulting in the recharge of the water table. This helps to constantly replenish underground water stocks.
– Flood and Erosion Prevention -Wetlands prevent surface run-off from moving swiftly downstream and overflowing. Thus they prevent erosion and flood conditions.
– Storm Protection – Wetlands such as mangroves and other forested coastal areas act as wind-breaks and help to dissipate the forces and impact of coastal storm surges.
– Climate Change Mitigation -Wetlands play at least two crucial yet contrasting roles in mitigating the effects of climate change: one in the management of greenhouse gases especially carbon dioxide and the other in physically buffering climate change impacts.
– Again wetlands provide micro-climate stabilization -Wetland vegetation may also evaporate or transpire much of the water into the atmosphere and help to maintain stable climatic conditions.
You can see for yourselves why it is imperative on our part to protect and preserve the few RAMSAR sites we have left as a country. In this regard, the Wild Life Division of the Forestry Commission of Ghana which has the management of the nation’s wetlands under its purview s doing quite a good job at that. Let’s continue to herald the message of our
RAMSAR sites and create awareness as much as we can.
We want to hear your thoughts on this issue, leave your comments and let’s start a discussion.
An earlier article discussed how a proposed coal-fired generation plays into the policy direction of the Government of Ghana (or what we thought was the policy direction). Basically, we sought to understand if the actions of the government were in tandem with the directions they had told us they were committing to.
A few weeks later, the Government of Ghana published the Ghana Climate Change Policy and the Ghana Environment Policy both of which seem to support directives enumerated in the Ghana Energy Policy. Basically, the government wants to protect the environment and in situations where environmentally-friendly options were available, there will be no second guessing.
In the absence of information suggesting otherwise, it is safe to assume that a coal power plant will be built in Ghana. Progress, much to the excitement of those decrying the state of the power situation, is being made to construct and operate this plant. Opening up a discussion on the project is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about climate change and to help Ghanaians be honest about their respective and collective roles. It is only when we understand our personal responsibilities that we can begin to truly appreciate the weight of collective responsibility we must bear as a society if we are to leave a better earth for posterity.
We must begin to appreciate the role we play in the climate-related increase in flooding, drought and other natural disasters. Look out for more about personal responsibility in future posts.
For now, let us return to the issue of the disconnection between policy and actions on the ground.
Recent pronouncements by the World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, has supported earlier claims by others including the global investment banking powerhouse, Goldman Sachs, that to solve energy poverty and for sustainable economic growth, Sub-Saharan Africa has no choice but to consider coal. In other words, the “best” way to increase access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa is to build coal-fired plants.
Yes, it is a well-known fact that climate change is not the only risk facing Africa. Even though the risk of climate change is not well understood by the ordinary African, the risk of hunger, power outages among others are quiet self-evident. The power situation in Ghana is of great concern. However, the role of the environment in providing for and protecting human lives is of utmost importance.
Even more importantly, Ghana is in in a unique position – made possible by past efforts – to solve the energy situation without adding too much to the country’s carbon footprint. This unique position can allow Ghana to do something wonderful, something amazing, something Green! Here are the reasons why:
1. Ghana has natural gas. Over 5 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves. The rate at which power plants consume fuel (gas, etc) depends on several factors including the efficiency of the plant. However, on average, a gas-fired power plant will consume 0.00786 million cubic feet of natural gas to generate a kilowatt-hour of electricity. This means that even if Ghana increases its gas-powered generating capacity to 3,000MW, it will take more than 20 years to consume all of Ghana’s reserves. Ghana currently has a total installed capacity of 2846.5MW of which 1,042MW is capable of being powered with natural gas.
2.Ghana has invested $1 billion of BORROWED MONEY in setting up a gas company – Ghana Gas. This gas processing facility has the capacity to generate about 140 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. That is enough gas to power a 700MW plant reliably. This is the simplest and most conservative estimate. And this is just shy of the 1,000MW coal powered plant proposed but more than the WHAT IS NEEDED NOW to meet the shortfall in the nation’s generation capacity. Ghana is currently grappling with a power generation deficit of between 550MW and 600MW.
3. Coal fired power plants are not necessary the cheapest to build, even if you exclude the cost of emission tax. The US Energy Information Administration, estimates that if you include everything from initial investment to the cost of fuel and the expense to operate, maintain and decommission old plants, Coal plants cost 1.5 times more than natural gas plants. Most people making the argument for coal only consider the initial investment cost and possibly cost of fuel.
4. Coal is Dirtier than natural gas. The direct emission from coal is twice as much as that of gas. Even when you consider the overall emission equivalent (it takes into consideration both the direct and indirect emissions), gas is still better than coal. And the direct effect is clear when it comes to health statistics.
5. The health burden of coal is higher than that of gas. In a study of the health effect of energy in Europe by primary energy source, it was found out that 735.8 persons suffered air pollution related effects (deaths, major and minor illness) per terawatt-hour (TWh) of electricity generated from gas compared to 9,730.4 persons for electricity generated from coal sources.
This is just a small portion of the overwhelming evidence in favour of natural gas powered generation in Ghana and for an environmentally-conscious approach to reducing energy poverty and increasing economic wellbeing of the people of Ghana.
It is noteworthy that this discussion of coal is happening when Ghana is already considering proposals from General Electric for a 1,000MW natural gas power plant and a Swedish firm for 1,000MW renewable generation from tidal waves. Perhaps there is more to the story of why Ghana needs coal. Whatever that is, it safe to say it is not for the good of the environment.
The Green Ghanaian Initiative exists to create ‘green’ Ghanaians. Our efforts have been found at various events that are youth focused and resonating with our spirit of innovation. One of such events in August was the Chale Wote Street Art Festival in Jamestown in the heart of Accra. This was the 4th installation of the festival and definitely the greatest yet. There was art on the streets and on buildings, installations of artwork, and arts & crafts vendors. At the Mantse Agbona Park, food vendors sold local foods and snacks; also within the park were our sanitation stations.
Yes, while we enjoyed the art of Chale Wote, the Green Ghanaian Initiative recycled. We were privileged to have some of the Chale Wote artists help us recycle an old piece of wood into the ‘Sanitation Station’ sign post. We were very proud of our work. The stations had bins for plastic bottles, plastic water sachets and non-recyclables. Budgetary constraints limited us to 2 stations with 3 bins each instead of the 11 we had envisioned across the entire stretch of the Atta Mills High Street.
A few things we gathered from the experience:
1. The waste ohhh, the waste!
We were essentially in the ‘food court’ of the festival and so the objective was to capture as much of the waste produced near the food as possible. And that we did. We carted away approximately 2640 litres (that’s about 3 tonnes) of waste!
2. Shock and Awe
Interestingly, people looked puzzled when they arrived at our bins. But the different colors stood out enough for them to realize that these weren’t ordinary bins and needed to be treated differently. As a rule, we always have an attendant by these bins at events to make sure that people use them properly when discarding their waste. So first there’s the surprise, then they pay attention, then they ask “where should I put this?” and then we show them. It was a learning curve for most and it was our pleasure to be the teachers.
3.Going the distance
Despite the two stations in the park, there were still areas in the park that could have been considered to be ‘far away’ from the bins, particularly near the stage where DJs and artistes performed. And in these places we noticed that people still littered. Periodically we would patrol the park and always found water sachets, plastic bags and/or plastic cups on the ground as people stood around. Even though we picked the most convenient positions for our bins (the entrances) and prevented a lot of littering with our bins, we realized that people would rather just litter than go the distance of walking to the bin when they felt it was just too far away. We’re working to entrench a new culture where people are willing to go the distance with their waste.
Some people have never seen recycling bins before. They don’t expect to be asked to think about the waste they are holding and decide where exactly it should go. These were the ones that had to be guided as to where to put what. These are the ones that asked why we were going through the trouble of segregating. These are the ones we came for. And it was our pleasure to be there for them.
5. Green Smiles
Generally people appreciated being given the opportunity to recycle their waste. Many of the public had used them before and where delighted that Chale Wote was taking green steps to handle their waste. This drew interest in who we were and what our aim was. Overall, we created many green smiles and that was a big step to keeping Ghana moving in the green direction.
6. Overall we had fun and learned a lot
Our 6 volunteers were Jamestown residents (affiliated with the festival) and they were ALL women. After the two supervisors explained the green bin system to them, they got their gloves and t-shirts on and we were an unstoppable team. We enjoyed all of the festivities including the music, food, artwork, fashion and lovely people. We danced, laughed, worked and had a lot of fun. We also learned the power of teamwork and saw what impact hardworking women could have when they have knowledge and tools to better their surroundings. We can’t wait to work with these ladies again!
In Ghana we have chronic sanitation challenges. We have no working sewers, no waste water treatment options, 60% garbage collection rate (in Accra, we generate 2800 metric tonnes but are only able to collect 2800 off the ground) and a current cholera outbreak that has infected thousands and killed hundreds.
Government has resorted to all sorts of stunts to make it look like they are handling the situation.
There has been the blaming on waste management companies. In its usual knee jerk reaction clean-up exercises have been organized all over the place and most recently the demolition of several homes in the Mensah Guinea area in Accra (behind but not within the Accra Art Center) rendering hundreds homeless because they suddenly remembered that the condition of the place was unsanitary.
Needless to say that government’s attempts at stemming the outbreak have little scientific basis. A 3-year research project on the spread of fecal contamination (which is the source of cholera spread) can be found here. It’s very informative. You’d be shocked at what you’ll learn.
But that’s not why I’m ranting today. My issue is with the patchwork they call clean-up exercises. I don’t like them, I don’t believe in them (even though I’ve been forced to participate in one in my line of work). And here are my reasons why.
1. Many at times the people responsible for the filth don’t initiate or participate in it
Many market places, lorry stations and other public centers within the cities have become the dwelling places of the urban poor. They sell there during the day and sleep there during the night. They also bath and ease themselves there. This many at times includes their young children. But when have you ever seen a group of kayaye’s or trotro mates organizing a clean-up exercise. Someone from outside the vicinity does it and they benefit. They might never have even thought the place really needed cleaning in the first place. Someone else did. Which leads me to my 2nd reason for hating clean-up exercises.
2. Nothing actually stays clean
A clean-up exercise is a bunch of people getting shovels and cleaning tools and making some dirty area look clean. But the people who actually made the place as filthy as it is (and who usually don’t participate in the work) don’t change the dirty habits they have that got the place filthy in the first place. People still litter just as they did before, defecate in drains just as they did before and urinate in public just as they did before. One man did it right in front of our faces as we cleaned up a drain. I don’t see why we bother, after all..
3. It never fixes the real problems
Ghana’s sanitation issues are chronic because they are infrastructural. You can’t have proper wastewater treatment without proper sewers or a wastewater treatment facility. That’s why lavender hill just can’t seem to disappear. You can’t have proper waste management (not waste collection) without proper city planning, navigable roads, engineered landfills that deal with waste appropriately and recycling to make the most of what we throw away before it ends up in the landfill. Clean-up exercises are patchwork. They are lazy attempts at solving chronic problems that are killing us. And you know why we really do them?
4. Its helps us ease our consciences
No one wants to feel responsible for the filthy ‘millenium’ city called Accra. Not even the leaders. We all want to feel like at least we did something to make things better. Let’s go clean up the market. Let’s go clean up the beach. We’ll gather all our tools, take time away from work and do what a good citizen should. Clean up. And then we’ll all feel better. And the perpetrators of the filth will keep littering and defecating and urinating and spitting and all of the other nasty things that are seen as normal public behavior within this our acceptable culture of filth.
And by the time we are done we would have just danced around the circle and arrived right back at where we started.
A friend of mine swore that this time around cholera and sanitation would become an election issue and I told her not to bet on it. We’ve been over this year after year. The knee jerk reactions will get us to clean up the surface while leaving the real filth which is deep within our habits and out-of-order priorities. By the time its voting season again we will forget and stick to our parties and take the t-shirts and vote whichever way forgetting the issues. I think clean up exercises should be banned. We should drown in our filth till we fix what we REALLY need to fix. SOON.