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27.01.2004 Feature Article

Ghana! An under-sleeping Nation

Ghana! An under-sleeping Nation
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A GNA feature by Nana Kodjo Jehu-Appiah

Accra, Jan. 26, GNA - One Theresa, a 21 year-old lady, who was using a public transport from Taifa to the Accra Business District on a Monday morning slept throughout the one-and-a-half- hour journey in perfect peace, oblivious of the bustling human activity around her. When the bus made a final stop at the Tema Lorry Park, the lady sprang up to life; stretched her body, turned and stirred at this writer with a captivating smile.

One quickly took advantage of the unexpected courtesy and asked curiously: "Why did you decide to convert a public bus into your sleeping room? She paused for seconds and remarked: "I am surprised that you took notice of me. I did not know that I was so important to anybody.

"Well! My house is located between two religious sects and you could imagine the noise they churn out every night. I hardly enjoy a good sleep from Wednesdays to Fridays. Friday nights are my worse nightmares."

The dialogue was a grim reminder of the disquieting sound associated with nocturnal human activity in our cities. This phenomenon is steadily transforming Ghana into an "under-sleeping" nation.

The story of Theresa may not be different from that of the silent majority, who cannot enjoy a peaceful sleep. Their untold stories could be blamed on the hard fact that they have nowhere or no one to complain to for the needed redress.

Paradoxically, those guilty of making unnecessary noise, are groups and people in the society, who are expected to set high standards of social order.

One wonders why some religious groups organise all-night religious service without the slightest regard to the nuisance they cause to others.

Religious freedom does not mean that a religious congregation of 10 and 50 should hold a community of about 500 or more inhabitants' hostage with blaring speakers. The general uneasiness at night is also caused by other social and economic activities such as - parties, funerals, music and audio-visual cassette rentals.

The agitating noise of grinding mills, food vendors, tooting of horns by private and commercial drivers and the blasting of household sound systems and amplifiers are contributory factors to this state of malaise.

Being an election year, 2004, would witness sustain activities of anxious politicians, who would slip into their habits of holding nocturnal political campaigns in residential areas to soften the grounds towards their dream march to the Osu Castle-the seat of the much converted political authority of sovereign Ghana.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had set the Ambient Noise Level Guidelines at residential areas with negligible or infrequent transportation at 55 decibels (dB) from 0600-2200 and 48 dB from 2200-0600.

The EPA asserts that noise levels above 45dB impair sleep while 70dB leads to emotional upset, irritability and other tensions. Any noise level above 90dB may cause damage to the ear either temporarily or permanently. Noise can affect the circulatory, digestive and nervous systems and even vision.

According to a study conducted by the Ghana News Agency (GNA), inadequate sleep leads to drowsiness, restlessness and decreases the ability to concentrate.

Loud sounds destroy sensory hair cells in the inner ear, which do not regenerate. The process of hearing loss is gradual and cumulative. Noise can let our hearts beat faster, breathing speeds up and muscles tensed up. This reaction can lead to a wide range of health problems from high blood pressure and headaches to ulcers, cardiovascular diseases and depression. It affects the immune system of victims rendering them vulnerable to diseases. Insomnia affects productivity, ingenuity and corporate well being.

Those who get regular night sleep live longer and healthier. The most insidious effect of chronic noise exposure is the danger of adapting to very dangerous conditions.

Steve Halpen, a Sound Researcher and Musician, had noted:" The siren volume used by Police and fire vehicles in urban areas has risen to 122 decibels - louder than a jet engine.

"Before World War 1, a brass bell was sufficient to clear the road. As a result, we do not hear as well as our ancestors." It is public knowledge that some fatal motor accidents were caused by driver fatigue due to inadequate sleep.

Noisemaking is so endemic in the society that the activity is extended throughout the day - banging of doors, chatting loudly in vehicles and indiscriminate use of mobile phones.

Despite repeated reminders by organisers of public functions to participants to switch off or reduce the ringing tones of mobile phones, there is always occasions when people simply ignore the rule and allow the irritating sounds emitting from their phones to cause disruptions.

Some people have acquired the rude habit of shouting on top of their voices during normal conversations or interactions that often drew curious attention to them. Merry-making sessions had become dramatic scenes similar to war situations.

Drug, vendors and inarticulate preachers have transformed public buses and open spaces to freelance noisemaking grounds.

The question is who is in charge of the enforcement of the laws on noise pollution?

What is the role of Central Government, Parliament, the District Assemblies, Judiciary, Police and the EPA in ensuring that sanity prevails in the God blessed homeland - Ghana?

One is of the view that Vice President Alhaji Aliu Mahama's campaign against indiscipline would be meaningless unless it is linked to the total eradication of unnecessary noisemaking.

With this approach, Ghanaians would be sure of grabbing the six-hour mandatory night sleeping hours and wake up refreshed to give true meaning to the salutation: "Good Morning".

This would demand "a Presidential Special Initiative on Zero Tolerance for excessive noisemaking".

A total ban of the use of public address systems in residential areas especially in the night would not be a bad idea at all. Siting industrial machines and factories should also be discouraged in heavily populated areas. "A Stitch in time saves nine".

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