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31.01.2005 Health

The Survival Conflict: Our Environment, Health and Living

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By Kwabia Owusu-Mensah

Kumasi, Jan 31, GNA - Mankind since time immemorial had struggled in diverse ways to make ends meet.

In the Bible, for instance, after Adam had eaten the forbidden fruit, God told him that he would eat from the sweat of his labour. This commandment of God ushered mankind into the world of hard work to enable him to survive. This also brought man in direct conflict with the environment since he had to cultivate the land to bear fruits for him to eat.

The use of the land and for that matter, the environment by man for survival, had continued since Adam.

However, the increase in population and the discovery of minerals in the belly of earth as well as the use of the land surface for several socio-economic activities had put more pressure on the environment. Extraction of minerals, farming, construction and other human activities have impacted negatively on the environment. In recent times population increase, rural-urban migration and increased socio-economic activities in urban cities have resulted in severe environmental problems for city and metropolitan authorities. Choked gutters, mountain refuse dumps, littering of streets are common sights in Accra and Kumasi. All these have come about as a result of man's quest for survival.

Nobody is happy about the current environmental situations in the urban cities of the country, but how do we solve them? Do we have to prevent hawkers, sachet water producers and other traders whose activities result in the unsanitary conditions from working to earn a living? Or do we have to allow them to continue their activities and bring untold health problems to residents? This is the question of the survival conflict.

One of the most serious environmental and health issues that have brought to the fore the quest for survival is the use of polluted water or wastewater for irrigating vegetable farms in urban and peri-urban areas.

Most water sources in urban farming are heavily polluted with untreated wastewater and treating wastewater is expensive. In Ghana the health implications as a result of the use of polluted wastewater relate mostly to intestinal pathogens and to some extent, heavy metal contamination.

Banning polluted water use has failed since it threatens the supply of vegetables and the livelihoods of urban and peri-urban agriculture dependants. Moreover, banning is not practical as long as alternative water sources are lacking.

It was to address some of these issues that an international workshop on "safeguarding public health concerns, livelihoods and productivity in wastewater irrigated urban and peri-urban vegetable farming", was held in Kumasi recently.

The workshop, which was organised by the Challenge Programme for Water and Food Project in collaborations with the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), aimed at discussing ways to take a holistic approach to improve land and water productivity, minimise public health risks and safeguard livelihoods in irrigated urban and peri-urban agriculture in response to the needs expressed by local authorities and farmers.

As Prof Kwesi Andam, the Vice Chancellor of KNUST, said at the opening of the workshop that the contributions of urban and peri-urban agriculture to urban food security, poverty alleviation, women empowerment and balanced diets have been documented, but it has not received appropriate public support.

The reason is the common use of polluted wastewater and its resultant health implications on the public.

The Challenge Programme for Water and Food Project seeks to use innovative multi-disciplinary and integrated approach to identify user-oriented strategies to safeguard public health concerns without compromising livelihoods and land and water productivity in wastewater irrigated urban and peri-urban vegetable production.

The Project, therefore, seeks to harmonise the survival conflict between the vegetable growers and the environment.

It seems that most metropolitan and municipal assemblies have concentrated their sanitation and health activities on refuse collection to the detriment of the use of polluted wastewater for vegetable farming which has serious health implications.

It is therefore important to support the call by Prof Andam to experts in the field to take time to discuss how they can ensure more effective policy dialogue that would enhance support for research and development in the irrigated vegetable production in the cities and reduce health risks associated with wastewater irrigation of vegetables. Man must use the environment for his survival but it is also important that we restrain ourselves in order not to jeopardise the environment of which our health and survival depend on.

There is the need for people, especially those struggling for survival in the urban cities, to try as much as possible to harmonise the natural conflict that exists between them and the environment in order to promote good sanitation, health and protected environment for the future generation. 31 Jan 05

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