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19.05.2004 Regional News

Integrate strategic environmental assessment development - Veep tells

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Accra, May 19, GNA - Vice President Aliu Mahama on Wednesday urged Ministers of State to adopt strategic environmental assessment procedures as part of their policies and programmes to reduce the high cost of natural resource depletion and environmental degradation associated with national development.

The Vice President said this when he opened a conference on the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Document prepared jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) and some consultants to mainstream environmental issues into the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS).

The Ministerial Conference was aimed among other things to expose the deficiencies in the strategy to the policy makers and solicit their political will to reverse the trend.

Vice President Mahama endorsed the document as a timely model, which should be adopted by Ministries, Agencies and Departments (MDAs) to ensure sustainable development.

He said that the Government, in its desire to reduce the level of poverty, but constrained by financial resources, treated the issue of the environment as a separate component when it focused on the five priority areas to achieve accelerated socio-economic growth.

That explains the inadequate coverage of environmental issues in the GPRS.

However, Vice President Mahama said it was important to address the anomaly and commended the Ministry of Environment and Science, EPA, NDPC and the Royal Netherlands Embassy that collaborated to put the Document together.

He said: "I am informed that the environmental cost of our development in the 1990s was about four per cent of the GDP. This was at a time when the economy was growing at the rate of six per cent. He said it was in that light that he was urging the conference participants to support the SEA and commit themselves and the institutions they represented to the implementation of its recommendations to ensure that the country's development would not be at the expense of the environment.

He called for the support of Ghana's Development Partners in the management of the environment for sustainable development and it preservation for future generations.

Professor Kassim Kasanga, Minister of Environment and Science, expressed concern about the low level of interest in environmental issues as was evident by the low turnout of Ministers at the Conference. He, however, said the situation would be regarded as a challenge to make all stakeholders interested and concerned to properly integrate those issues into the development agenda.

Mr Joseph Allotey, Executive Director of EPA, who presented the SEA to participants, noted that any development would not be sound and meaningful unless it balanced social, economic and environmental issues.

He said it was ironic to consider environmental issues separately from the GPRS, when poverty was inter-linked with the environment. He said real cost of natural resource depletion and environmental degradation as a percentage of the GDP should be assessed and integrated in macro economic targets together with population growth and other factors.

"More than 30 per cent of our population that live below the poverty line depend on the environment for their livelihood, therefore, we can not address their needs without assessing how they affect our natural resources," he noted.

Consequently, the SEA Document, which would be integrated into the second phase of the GPRS, whose implementation begins in 2006, recommends an increase in the Government's expenditure on natural resource conservation, sustainable development initiatives and the enhancement of degraded environment to support agricultural production. Additionally, SEA calls for integrated rural development strategies in rural manufacturing to ensure sustainable growth.

The potentials in eco-tourism, agro-processing, traditional medicine and other economic activities should be identified and developed for rural communities to diversify their means of livelihoods, it suggests. The technical tools of the SEA are being developed.