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Opinions Mon, 15 Feb 2021

Ghana may import water and lumber

Fifty per cent of those who start reading this article will drop off midway. Why?­ The subject is too “dry”.

Some things are shocking but not surprising. One of them is the result of a little survey I conducted in the streets of Accra on the occasion of this year’s World Wetlands Day.

For my 15 respondents, I purposively sampled tertiary school graduates.

Results: only six had heard about wetlands; only two knew there was a Wetlands Day, and none knew February 2 as the day.

When I expressed alarm that “Ghana’s wetlands are disappearing”, all of them, without exception, shrugged and walked away with a face that told me they had “better” things on their minds.

I was shocked, but I was not surprised.

Last Sunday, a TV station telecast the horrors of Sakumo were one of Ghana’s five most significant wetlands had been 80% encroached by real estate developers.

Now read this. Even as some of the residents spoke, and as the camera panned to capture activities in the background, developers were busy on massive housing projects. But that, still, was shocking but not surprising.

Here comes the shock. Even in the midst of the illegality, there were policemen walking around the site, evidently not to make arrests! Intuitively I reached for the phone. I wanted to find out if the laws about Ramsar sites were still in force.

A Tema Municipal Assembly rep interviewed, to the TV news Reporter that the Assembly had not issued a permit to anybody to undertake real estate.

But the developments were proceeding at aggressively and TMA, from Board to Management and staff, is watching, hands between their thighs, waiting for the next salary and Board fees.

At the risk of being ‘spiked’ (as journalists would say), or putting anybody off, I like to inform you that February 2, is World Wetlands Day, the date, in 1971 when the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar.

Wetlands are land areas that are saturated or flooded with water, either permanently or seasonally. Inland wetlands include marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains, and swamps.

Coastal wetlands include saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves, lagoons and even coral reefs. Fishponds, rice paddies and saltpans are human-made wetlands.

Ghana has wetlands and some Ramsar sites. A Ramsar site is a wetland designated to have international importance for migratory animal life, especially birds.

Five coastal lagoons and their watersheds in Ghana were designated in 1992 as Ramsar sites (that is, “internationally important wetlands”). They are Muni-Pomadze, Densu Delta, Samumo, Songor and Keta.

For countries hungry for big bucks, especially by millionaires known in tourism as the “big spenders”, bed watching is big business.

They spend millions of dollars to attract these fabulously rich tourists who follow migratory birds.

Those millionaires don’t come in droves: they travel mostly single or with a spouse or small family.

Their most treasured luggage their very expensive camera, the cost of whose lenses can buy a car!

Within their two-week stay, the expenditure of even five of them will rival that of 100 tourists of the bag-packer type.

But it is not only in hard instant cash that the value of wetlands is weighed.

The literature says “they play a role in reducing the frequency and intensity of floods by acting as natural buffers, soaking up and storing a significant amount of floodwater, protecting and improving water quality, supporting the fishing industry, storing floodwaters and providing opportunities for education and recreation”.

Sadly, these benefits do not glitter, as gold or oil does. So wetlands are disappearing.

If they have not completely disappeared, it is because of strong advocacy by NGOs like Save the Sea Shore Birds and the Ghana Wildlife Society since the early 1980s.

Indeed, it was interventions by these organizations that led to the government of Ghana receiving financial and material support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for the protection of these sites under the Coastal Wetlands Management Project.

The write-up for the 2021 Wetlands Day campaign warns that the world is “facing a growing freshwater crisis that threatens people and our planet. We use more freshwater than nature can replenish, and we are destroying the ecosystem that water and all life depend on most – wetlands”.

In Ghana, the problem is different. Our Ramsar sites are being illegally exploited by individuals and estate developers.

We could soon be importing water!

As with wetlands, so it is with Ghana’s rainforest. A Global Forest Watch report says that Ghana’s forest cover is being lost at an alarming rate.

By means of updated remote sensing and satellite data, it has been discovered that in 2018, there was a 60% increase in Ghana’s primary rainforest loss, considered as the highest in the world. Our forest cover has shrunk dangerously.

Can anybody bring themselves to even imagine this, dear reader: that Ghana, the land of trees, may now have to import lumber!

Unfortunately in Ghana MPs and Presidents don’t get elected over issues of wetlands and rainforests. These are not our bread and butter election issues. That is why our wetlands and rainforests will continue disappearing.

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The writer, Enimil Ashon, is a former Editor of the ‘Ghanaian Times’ and now a columnist of the ‘Daily Graphic’.
Columnist: Enimil Ashon