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What is the State of Ghana’s Environment?

31 August 2011 | Feature Article

By Akua Akyaa Nkrumah, Environmental Science and Technology, University of Maryland - College Park, USA.

Yes, it's been a long time since I updated but I promise to be getting better at that. As I continue my internship chronicles, I'd like to highlight on (in my own words) the proceedings and observations of the State of the Environment Forum. It was held during the 11th Environmental Film Festival of Accra (EFFA) on the 10thof June this year. This forum was meant to bring all major players in Ghana's environmental sector together to present the major problems in each sub-sector and develop a list of solutions to present to Ghana's Environmental Protection Agency. As my current specialization is in Water and Sanitation, I joined the break-out session of that sub-sector. The other break-out sessions covered Climate Change, Natural Resources (Mining and Forestry) and Natural Resources (Oil, Gas and Fisheries).

From the proceedings of the session and my own personal observations, it seems we have a problem of infrastructure overload, particularly in the city of Accra. The city's population has boomed and the government has failed to keep up with its growth with the necessary water and sanitation structures. The result? We all know it. Choked gutters, dead lagoons, polluted beaches, disease outbreaks and let's not forget that stench that never seems to leave certain neighborhoods. In other areas we still see pitfalls in sanitation but not as trashed. So what is the state of Ghana's environment? Well… it's just FILTHY. And the main causes?

Trash…… Everywhere!!!

That about sums that point up! There's trash everywhere and people have become so used to it that… they've just stopped caring. I was once at the Kaneshie Market (trying to get to circle of course) and I decided to do the right thing about some trash I was holding and look for a trashbin. I searched and searched at the lorry station and finally found one tucked away in a corner. How does one even feel prompted to do the right thing when the bin isn't there? You just join the crowd and throw it in that gutter that's already full anyways. And sure, there have been attempts at waste collection and recycling by companies such as Zoomlion but once a major part of that company becomes controlled by the government, well, it's all downhill from there. And so the trash just keeps piling up. Zoomlion was at this session, by the way, and their main complaints seemed to be that people don't cooperate and that space for landfills is running out. (of course! Space will run out if you're not dealing with the trash in a sustainable way! But that's another blog post for another day)

We Eat Our Own Shit

Don't get squeamish… it's the sad truth. As Ghanaians, we produce a lot of shit. As a matter of fact, Benjamin Arthur of the Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation (CONIWAS) reported that in the 5 major cities of Accra, Kumasi, Tema, Tamale and Takoradi-Sekondi 160 articulator trucks worth of solid waste is produced a DAY. Now, it's a living truth that in Accra many people live in houses without toilets and different methods have been devised to get around it. Some use the plastic bag (which usually gets tossed in a gutter somewhere), some do it around Circle (pictured here) and some make themselves comfortable on the beach. Either way it all ends up back in our waterways and eventually in the sea. And oh, don't you septic tankers leave yourselves out. Those tanks get pumped every 3 months or so and where does it end up? The sea of course. That same sea we fish and eat from. Those same waters that run into our pipes. So let's face it, we really do eat our own shit.

A Battle of the Minds

Anywhere you go old habits are hard to break but in Ghana, breaking old habits is like pulling the teeth of a lion. We just love our trashy ways. We aren't willing to consider being responsible as citizens for our environment but have left it to the government. One key question Zoomlion asked was “how ready are Ghanaians to separate their waste at home before collection?” How ready are you my friend?

We've got it all but still want more

Ghana truly is a blessed country in many ways. We've got natural resources in our forests, agriculture, mining and now oil (I don't know how I feel about that though). There are solar rays to be harnessed and tons of waste for renewable energies but instead of getting up off our butts and cleaning up, we want foreign investors to do everything for us. Instead of buying locally produced products, we continuously feed our importing addiction bringing in more trash. If only we valued what we had the way outsiders did, if only we saw ourselves as part of the problem, Ghana's environment would be in a better state.

By Akua Akyaa Nkrumah, Environmental Science and Technology, University of Maryland - College Park, USA.

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