Accra, June 18, GNA - It is heart warming to hear that Cabinet has given approval to the National Action Programme to combat drought and desertification as the nation marks the UN Day for the Combat of Desertification and Drought, which fell on June 17. The Ministry of Environment and Science prepared the programme in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after undertaking an exhaustive consultation with stakeholders throughout the country.
Clarifying a point to the Ghana News Agency in a statement the Ministry of Environment and Science issued on Wednesday to mark the Day, Mr Edward Osei Nsenkyire, Chief Director of the Ministry, said the programme involved a multi-ministerial approach system and thus needed the Government's support.
He said the National Desertification Fund to be established needed seed money from the Ministry of Finance and other donor partners and especially Canada, which have promised to support the programme. The statement said Ghana was joining the rest of the global community to celebrate the World Day to combat drought and desertification in line with a convention adopted in Paris on June 17, 1994.
It is to draw the attention to the effect, impact and the threat of drought and desertification and its consequent land degradation with the aim of "sensitisation of communities to adopt programmes and actions to cushion or prevent its devastation."
The theme for this year's celebration, which marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the protocol, dwells on: "The Social Dimensions of Desertification-Migration and Poverty", thus accentuating the reality that desertification and drought ultimately lead to poverty and the forced movement of large communities and individuals from their natural environs to places far and wide.
LARGE TRACTS DEGRADED
"Barely a decade ago in 1994, it was estimated that about 30 per cent of the agriculturally usable land in Africa was degraded and about 23 per cent usable land degraded worldwide. Strong and extreme degradation amounted to about eight per cent in Africa. Current ratio definitely would be much higher and converting these figures into monetary terms for Africa will probably run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
"Unfortunately for most of Africa, desertification is often misinterpreted as encroachment of deserts (of sand dunes) on previously fertile land. The true physical manifestations of desertification include deforestation, deterioration of rangelands and soil erosion."
In Ghana, the three Northern regions are the areas most threatened but human activities in the transition zones of Ashanti, Volta and Brong Ahafo regions are currently causing land degradation at an alarming rate to warrant national concern. The threat of desertification is also knocking the doors of places along the coastal belt of the Central and Volta regions and parts of the Accra Plains.
These no doubt are leading to low crop yield, reduced agriculture productivity and eventual low incomes with its attendant increased poverty.
It is in this direction that the Friends of the Earth have called on Ghanaians and national authorities to fulfil their obligations to the Day which they committed themselves to under the Paris Convention. The Friends of the Earth also said: "We need the Government to take concrete action now to show communities struggling in the face of desertification that our elected leaders are willing and able to work with them to combat the problem, and to bring hope to those communities that another future is possible."
To this end, Mr Nsenkyire said when the National Action Programme became operational there would be the need to visit other countries to learn from them how they were also tackling the problem of desertification.
He said a country like Burkina Faso, which is almost in the Sahara Desert was in the process conquering the problem of desertification and that it would be necessary for Ghana to learn from them. However, it is not as if Ghana is not doing anything to combat desertification and drought.
PRACTICAL ATTEMPTS TO RECTIFY THE SITUATION
Encouragingly, when Mr Matthew Abebrese, Director of Operations, Forest Services Division of the Forestry Commission was speaking on Wednesday during the launch of the National Biodiversity Awareness Campaign under the High Forest Biodiversity Conservation Project, said in 1998 the country had 8.7 million dollars grant from the Global Environment Facility and it was being used to implement a six-year High Forest Biodiversity Conservation project which would end in September, 2004.
The amount was given in recognition of the Genetic Heat Index that indicate the immense biological wealth identified in some exceptionally species-rich forest reserves in Ghana and of which 30 such areas have so far been identified.
The Ministry of Lands and Forestry through its Forest Services Division of the Forestry Commission was carrying out the project in conjunction with other stakeholders including the Ghana Wildlife Society, an nongovernmental organisation (NGO).
Mr Abebrese said some achievements have been made towards involving forest communities in resource management, particularly through the formation of the Community Biodiversity Advisory Groups (CBAGS).
"It is, however, not enough to concentrate efforts at stimulating public involvement in resource management on the forest fringe communities alone," but reckon that the larger society exerts significant pressures on the resource base both directly and indirectly, regardless of their physical closeness or otherwise to the resource". It was in this direction that a reasonable assertion should be made by the larger society who are sensitive to environmental concerns to be more willing to make choices and decisions that could reverse any possible threats to the environment.
Similarly, it was in this vein that Busumuru Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General's call to the world not to defer action today to save the situation to tomorrow.
This was contained in his message to mark the Day Thus it was instructive to hear the Number One Civil Servant say, "We need to focus attention on this crucial issue and make everyday one on which we work to reverse the trend of desertification and set the world on a safer and more sustainable path of development." 18 June 04