The cost of environmental degradation to the economy of Ghana is estimated at 10 percent of GDP, as water and air pollution, deforestation and desertification continue to take their toll. Ghana's GDP for 2006 was more than $12 billion, putting the estimated cost of the degradation at about $1.2 billion (¢11 trillion).
Land deprived of nutrients becomes less productive; hospital beds fill, and offices empty, as malaria-spreading mosquitoes continue to thrive in our open sewers. Farmers in the northern regions struggle to make a living from increasingly arid land; whilst contaminated rivers lead to depleted fishing stocks.
Environmental carelessness is seriously hindering our economic growth.
Meanwhile, Government funding for the environment sector has actually reduced in recent years, from 10.4 percent of the 2003 budget to just 8.5 percent in 2006 - with a study released this week stressing "little commitment to environmental priority issues at the highest government level.”
The Ghana Environment Sector Study took 18 months to put together.
The study is a joint initiative by the Royal Netherlands Embassy, the Canadian International Development Agency, the UNDP and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The report assesses the performance of the EPA and the environmental sector in Ghana, and will be used to inform future environmental planning and policy.
Lack of funding for the environment sector in Ghana was a main criticism of GESS, as well as “weak policy context,” slow actualisation of the decentralisation programme, and lack of monitoring networks which are supposed to be in place.
It also points out the tendency for government and assemblies to concentrate on issues of sanitation and environmental health, to the neglect of other pressing environmental issues.
The environment sector"s move from the Science Ministry to the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and now Environment was expected to help the implementation of environment policy – as District Assemblies assume responsibility for environmental matters.
“Environment has come to where some of us think is the right place,” said Abraham Dwuma Odoom, Deputy Minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Environment. “The best people to handle environment issues is the people themselves.”
In the nine months since the ministerial shuffle adjustment, however, the move has led to some temporary disruption and confusion of government policy – another problem identified by the report.
The study focused on districts in the Ashanti, Volta, Western and Upper East Regions, taking one metropolitan or metro assembly, and one district assembly, in each region – in order to gain a representative picture of the nation.
“Various planning and monitoring frameworks are in place and in principle are suitable to integrate environmental issues, but do not generate the required outputs,” the report concludes.
The weaknesses of the system are all too apparent in Accra.
It is a year since the Accra Metropolitan Assembly launched its monthly mass clean-up programme, yet environmental problems in the capital continue, and the need for a more comprehensive waste management policy here remains pressing.
The situation in Accra is typical of the wider failure of district, municipal and metropolitan assemblies to take on their responsibilities for their environment, according to William Abaidoo, Assistant Programme Officer at EPA – although a city expanding as quickly as our capital is faced with particular challenges.
The question of waste disposal in Accra has long been raised: do we have a waste management and environmental strategy? The EPA, charged with the monitoring and enforcement of environmental policy in this country, says it long ago developed environmental policy which is simply not being carried out.
An Environmental Sanitation Policy was published in 1999, which outlines the extent of problems – less than 40 percent of Ghana's urban population is served by a solid waste collection service, for example, and a much higher percentage in rural areas. Only 30 percent of Ghana's urban population has access to acceptable toilet facilities, and in some rural areas these are non-existent.
Local assemblies are charged with the responsibility of implementing improvements, working with the private sector: targets include the phasing out of all pan latrines by 2010, and the provision of acceptable domestic toilets for 90 percent of the population by 2020, with the remaining 10 percent served by hygienic public toilets.
But, “we can only come up with policy – it is up to the AMA and other local assemblies to implement it, but often they are too cash-strapped to do so,” Mr Abaidoo told The Statesman.
And neither the EPA nor the local assemblies have sufficient funds to execute their tasks; indeed, the GESS report highlighted lack of financial, human and equipment resources for the EPA.
One problem with waste management in Accra is the lack of appropriate dumping sites, with the World Bank-funded sanitary landfill at Kwabenya, in the pipeline since the early 1990s, still delaying.
Whilst rubbish continues to pile-up at open landfill sites in the Weija-Oblogo disused quarry and the Teshie-Nungua site, residents around Kwabenya protest the construction of a new managed facility. Ironically, the land surrounding the ear-marked plot has been a hot spot for property development over the last decade.
But resources compound the problem in Accra. “There are not enough waste containers or waste vehicles,” says Mr Abaidoo. “So the AMA are simply not collecting the rubbish.”
Another major sanitation issue is that of open gutters in our cities. “There have been attempts to cover them up – but often the metal grids are simply stolen by scavengers. A change in attitudes is just as important as more government funding.”
The GESS report makes several recommendations on how to increase finances for environmental improvements, including more support from the donor community. Provisions will also be made to strengthen statutory environmental committees at decentralised levels.