Number 6: Sustainable Development Part 2
TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN GHANA
by Mike Anane
All over the world, people and nations are beginning to realize that current destructive paths of development are clearly unsustainable, and that there is now a need to preserve the integrity and the natural resource base of the environment both for present and future generations. Ghana has not been left out in this line of thinking, hence the adoption of the National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP), which provides a coherent framework for interventions deemed necessary to safeguard the environment and redirect development efforts into more environmentally sustainable programmes and practices.
Ghana is endowed with abundant natural resources which undoubtedly contributed immensely to the country's industrialization after independence. But the extraction of these resources has not been without problems as care was not taken to guard against their depletion. In fact, no governmental action was taken to address the issue of environmental degradation in Ghana until the country's participation in the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in June 1972.
Ghana has since become aware of the enormity of its environmental problems, and in 1974 the government established the Environmental Protection Council (EPC). A critical look at the EPC during this period would reveal that its approach to work was rather ad hoc and environmental problems were tackled as they arose. No comprehensive plan existed to identify environmental problems and provide solutions, nor was there machinery to create environmental consciousness among Ghanaians. Serious environmental problems such as deforestation, soil degradation and industrial pollution persisted. GDP fell at an average rate of 1.3% per year, and population grew rapidly.
Faced with the stark reality of a fast declining economy, the Ghanaian government in 1983 launched its Economic Recovery Programme (ERP). This programme of economic policy reforms, calculated to put the Ghanaian economy on a positive growth path, was given financial and technical support by the World Bank and the IMF. The components of the reform efforts included creation of an enabling environment for foreign and domestic investment, and liberalization of credit and monetary arrangements.
A key objective of the ERP was the improvement of Ghana's economic performance by revitalizing agriculture, forestry, mining and the manufacturing industry. While this led to positive economic growth, it was growth at a high environmental price: an estimated 41.7 billion cedis, 4% of GDP, or US$128.3 million in 1988 alone.
Environmental Problems Resulting from the ERP
Agriculture imposed the greatest environmental degradation cost, at 69% or 28.8 billion cedis (US$88.5 million). These costs were reflected in wind and water erosion, soil compaction, surface soil crusting and loss of soil stability and fertility, not forgetting the indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides. While these unsustainable agricultural practices had adverse effects on the environment, they also intensified the poor living conditions of a majority of Ghanaians.
Ghana's forests also suffered from the ERP. Forests cover 34% of the country and contain 2100 plant species and many rare animals. An amazing 95% of Ghana's high forest has already been logged, and only 1% of what is left lies within protected areas such as wildlife sanctuaries, game reserves and sacred groves.
As in agriculture, the ERP led to a recovery in the exploitation of forest resources, particularly of timber. Timber earnings increased from 5.9% in 1986 to 13.2% in 1990. But the opportunity cost of this impressive progress was exceedingly high, estimated at 10.8 billion cedis, or US$33.4 million. This continued depletion of the forest resulted in land degradation, decreasing biodiversity, desertification, and the shrinking of the natural sink for carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
The mining sector was also heavily rehabilitated during the ERP. Dust, sulphur dioxide and arsenic trioxide are the major mining-related impacts on air quality in mining areas. Metals such as arsenic and mercury have been discharged into river systems, and the deterioration of water quality has affected resident aquatic organisms. The levels of arsenic and cyanide discharged into the water;which also serves as a source of drinking water for local residents;were higher than those recommended by the World Health Organization. Uncontrolled mining also left in its trail barren wasteland.
Given this worsening of Ghana's environmental problems in the wake of rapid industrialization, in March 1988 the government constituted a group of experts. It charged them with reviewing existing policies related to environmental protection, and with proposing a strategy to address the key issues of deforestation, land management, forestry and wildlife, water management, marine and coastal ecosystems, mining, manufacturing industries and hazardous chemicals, human settlements, legal and institutional issues, environmental education and environmental data systems.
The National Environmental Policy (NEAP) was then adopted to provide the broad framework for the implementation of the action plan and to ensure sound management of resources over a ten-year period, from 1991-2000. The NEAP endorses a preventive approach to environmental management and emphasizes a need to promote socioeconomic development within the context of acceptable environmental standards. Indeed it seeks to reconcile economic planning and environmental resource development with the view to achieving sustainable national development.
Achievements of NEAP So Far
The Environmental Protection Council (EPC) is the government institution that advises and coordinates all environment-related issues in the country. It is the overall coordinating body for the NEAP, with district assemblies playing key roles.
The adoption of the NEAP set into motion some structural and organizational changes. Though the EPC performed its role creditably during its 20 years of existence, the council was not as effective as it should have been because it lacked the power to enforce its decisions. In 1994, it was replaced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which received the necessary political backing and enforcement.
Other EPA mandates include issuing environmental permits, requesting environmental impact assessments for development programmes, providing information on the environment, and serving enforcement notices. The EPA also issues guides and provides training in procedures on these matters.
A new Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology has also been created and is charged with policy formulation. The ministry occasionally issues policy directives to the EPA.
A programme to control pesticides has also been put in place. The Ghana Standards Board, which is responsible for product quality control, monitors the quality of all pesticides to be used in Ghana, while the Ministry of Agriculture provides training for the farming communities on safe and effective application of pesticides.
The interdepartmental pesticide control programme made up of the EPA, Ministry of Agriculture, the Ghana Standards Board and the Ghana Medical School was set up by the government with the EPA as coordinating body. Legislations to control the importation, distribution, sale and use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals has been drafted and placed before parliament. This is laudable because over the years the importation, manufacture, distribution and handling and use of potentially toxic chemicals in Ghana has gone on without considering the environmental consequences and even quantities and types of chemicals in the country are not fully known.
Agro-forestry is increasingly being popularized as the best option to undertake food and animal production without harming the land's tree cover; soil fertility is also maintained. A school of forestry and an institute of renewable natural resources have been established to offer courses in this field.
LegislationThe dearth of environmental legislation in Ghana is perhaps one of the biggest problems militating against attempts at environmental protection and sustainable development. It is evident that the body of existing legislation on the various aspects of environment is inadequate and most provisions have no direct bearing on present-day realities or on the aspirations of the people of this country. For example, there is no coordinated and comprehensive land use or management policy. Compounding this is the multiplicity of agencies responsible for various aspects of land management. So far, one can count about 20 such agencies. These critical problems in environmental management can seriously impair any efforts to address Ghana's environmental problems. The few existing laws on the environment date back to the colonial era and due to their rule-oriented nature, abuses are common.Ghana continues to use British laws, some of which have destroyed the traditional systems of village management. In some areas, land, water and forests are owned by the government. As a result, village communities have lost all interest in managing or protecting them. Once the villagers realize the main objective of government management is to meet urban and international industrial needs, their motivation shifts from conserving to exploiting resources as fully as possible. A case in point is illustrated in a recent article in the Ghanaian Times, which reported the story of Nana Ameyaw Gyensiamah III, chief of Kwahu Tafo. The chief is appealing to the Ministry of Lands and Forestry to release the 30 square mile forest reserve at Kwahu (a town in the eastern region of Ghana) to the people for protection against illegal felling of trees and bush fires; the reserve had been turned into a grassland due to neglect by the department. Clearly no village can function within a legal framework that prevents it from taking care of its village environment. Several laws will have to be changed to give people the right to improve and develop their village's natural resource base.The effectiveness of any planning or conservation measures in most parts of the country are often hampered by the problems of land acquisition. In most cases, ownership boundaries are not clearly documented and registered, and coupled with the absence of adequate data for local and farm planning, attaining optimal land use can be a mirage, often resulting in the underutilisation or misuse of land. In this confused state, land degradation becomes the order of the day in most parts of Ghana.International CooperationThe implementation of sustainable development programmes in countries like Ghana requires major investments and access to technologies that respect the environment; only in this way can developing countries avoid having to choose between economic development and environmental conservation. International cooperation is indispensable to enable poor- and medium-income countries to ensure sustainable development and participate in protecting the earth's global ecological equilibrium. At the international level, the EPA has either organized or participated actively in a number of seminars and workshops. For instance, the EPA facilitated the ratification of the convention on biodiversity and the climate change convention by Ghana. The preparation of the necessary documentation for the ratification of the convention to combat desertification and the convention on oil pollution preparedness and response has also been completed.
Sustainable development is not exclusively a government affair but is a matter for society as a whole. Ghanaians must be mobilized to carry on and amplify government actions in favour of sustainable development. Efforts to achieve sustainable development cannot succeed if the EPA does not maintain active partnership with all segments of society. Over 100 environmental NGOs are active in Ghana. Some have been in existence for over 20 years and have broad experience of the natural environment and of activities to promote and protect it.
The EPA makes use of the recognized skills of NGOs by involving them in policy preparation. The EPA has been eliciting their cooperation by involving them in policy preparation and decision making regarding the environment. In June 1991, for instance, a national workshop was organized in Sunyani in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana for over 20 environmental NGOs on the environment action plan.
Environmental Education and Awareness
As a result of the government's efforts to make environmental issues a priority, an environmental education strategy was adopted. It aims to ensure that all sections of the population understand how the environment works and what opportunities and problems it presents. This strategy covers both the formal and informal educational sectors, and was a cooperative effort developed with input from the media, non-formal divisions of the Ministry of Education, the Ghana Education Service, NGOs and the National Council on Women and Development.
A key objective of environmental education is to raise the level of public awareness on environmental issues to a point where individuals, groups and organizations can fully assume their responsibilities in safeguarding the environment, particularly at the grassroots level.
Environmental education has not yet been fully integrated into the country's educational system. If steps are not taken to address this problem immediately, the very aim of the NEAP will be defeated. It is also important that non-formal education be given attention so that all those who do not attend school;traders, farmers, unemployed youth;be reached. Alternative methods such as drama troupes, cinema vans, opinion leaders and local chiefs can be mobilized to reach this community in their own local dialects.
In the formal sector, environmental education can be taught alongside existing subjects and topics could relate more closely to the environment of the communities within which the schools are located. The literate population can also be reached through newspapers, magazines and periodicals, as well as radio and television.
There is a notable lack of scientific information and a disturbingly low level of public awareness about many aspects of the environment in Ghana.
In addition to education, this gap of ignorance can be filled partially by an active environmental reporting, which not only increases awareness, but also establishes an informed and active participation on the part of the individual.
Government officials should see the few environmental newspapers and environmental journalists in the country as partners in development, and criticisms published in these newspapers should be taken in good faith and constructively.
But this is not the case. The Triumph newspaper, a privately owned weekly, investigated and published a story about the illegal importation and burial of toxic waste material in the country by a Lebanese national. Ghana's fourth republican parliament instituted an independent committee to investigate the authenticity of the story, and found that the illegal import contained high concentrations of lead and mercury, which could be harmful to human health. Still, no punitive action was taken against the perpetrators of this heinous crime; the toxic waste was not exhumed, in spite of the parliamentary committee's report.
Investigations conducted by The Triumph into an asbestos product factory indicated that the factory had been polluting the air with carcinogenic asbestos fumes. Despite persistent calls by The Triumph for a relocation of the factory or its closure, the country's environment officials ignored the request and turned a deaf ear. Yet the factory is located in a densely populated area. This official insensitivity to environmental news reporting is rather discouraging and undermines the country's attempts at sustainable development.
Poverty is a major setback to environmental protection and sustainable development in Ghana. This is because a majority of the people, particularly in rural areas, are poor. For them, where to get the next meal is much more important than any problem of desertification or wildlife depletion. The government must embark on serious poverty alleviation efforts, not only to raise the living standards of the people, but also to prevent them from unleashing their anger on the forests and other natural resources in their desperate bid to keep bone and flesh together.
Income-generating activities, revenue sharing or alternative employment opportunities can be initiated by the government on the principle that by providing other sources of income, the economic incentive to utilize wildlife illegally will be removed. These opportunities could include jobs as wardens, rangers, guides, labourers, or administrative staff. Revenue-sharing activities could mean the distribution of both cash and kind derived from tourist entrance fees. This approach would not only improve local income and living standards, but also curb the illegal use of wildlife and remove pressure from protected areas.
The cutting of forests in search of cheap firewood and energy, the grazing of marginal lands, the drift to the towns, all are problems caused by poverty. At the same time, the debt crisis facing Ghana and many developing countries today dramatically affects commodity prices and increases the outflow of resources from the less developed countries.
Also, one cannot forget the impact of structural adjustment policies on a country like Ghana. These policies have forced the government to cut down on social services, cut back the labour force (bread winners of families in most cases), and remove subsidies on medical care.
The World Bank's policies of structural adjustment as a condition for loans has stressed export crops to earn foreign exchange to pay off the mounting debt. This has certainly had a detrimental impact on many of the poor people in Ghana as most of them have been pushed off land needed for export crops. In desperation, most have moved to marginalized and less fertile areas or to the burgeoning cities, while others become dependent on the informal sector to survive.
One wonders how we can ever achieve sustainable development when the debt crisis has not been eased and when the government continues to swallow IMF/World Bank conditionalities hook, line and sinker, when women and children continue to bear the brunt of these harsh polices, and when such policies continue to wreak havoc on our environment.
The sustainability of economic and social development in Ghana depends to a large extent on its resource base, more so when economic growth has been based on the use of renewable and non-renewable natural resources like forests, soil and water. Clearly, the pressure on these natural systems is enormous. Unfortunately, past attempts to address the environmental problems have been largely on an ad hoc basis. There is a need for a rethinking of our natural development efforts along more sustainable lines.
The government of Ghana, through the NEAP, has stated its commitment to environmental protection and sustainable development. While not all promises have been realized, Ghana's efforts have been more than lip service. With the passage of time, efforts have gone beyond words into strengthening institutions, developing human resources, research capacity and methodology, thus improving popular participation and balancing access to and distribution of resources.
Already the NEAP is helping to facilitate national strategies and networking in the field of sustainable development. These considerable efforts must be intensified since environmental protection is a recurring challenge requiring constant vigilance and periodic revision. Perhaps what is needed most is a sustained and consistently orchestrated campaign by the mass media in Ghana to instill a commitment in the public to halt the alarming rate of environmental degradation and to develop new strategies for sustainable living.
Incentives and deterrents should also be provided to complement the legal texts already in force in the environmental field to give greater weight to the policy of environmental protection. Land and forest laws in particular need to become more rational, both from a scientific and social perspective, to encourage people's involvement and ecological regeneration.
Tunstall, Daniel B., 1993 Directory of Country Environmental Studies: An Annotated Bibliography of Environmental Assessments, WRI, USA, 1993.
Laing, E., Ghana Environmental Action Plan (Volume 1), Ghana, 1991.