Accra, Oct. 3, GNA - The Minister of Environment and Science (MES), Ms. Christine Churcher has called on African countries to be committed to mainstreaming environmental issues into their development processes, to ensure economic growth and development.
She said this would ensure sound environmental management practices that would contribute to sustainable growth and poverty reduction without compromising the environment.
Ms. Churcher made the call on Monday in a speech read for her by Mr Edward Osei Nsenkyire, Chief Director, MES, at the opening of a three-day international workshop on mainstreaming environment into the development process.
About 80 participants from 20 African countries and other development partners, including the UNDP are attending the workshop to share experiences and challenges. They are expected to come out with a declaration that would eventually lead to the enactment of legislation by governments to promote Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) on the African continent.
Ms. Churcher said it was unfortunate that Ghana did not prioritise environment in the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS 1), as in the cases of health, education, infrastructure development, good governance and private sector development due to limited resources. The Minister stated that the shortcomings had to be rectified as the poor depended on natural resources for their survival. However, the need for resources to implement the priorities of the GPRS of African countries and create wealth, had led to unsustainable exploitation of natural resources.
Ms Churcher said that a recent study on the impact of natural resource depletion indicated that Ghana's natural resources were overexploited and continued to decline in quantity and quality. "The degradation of soils, forests, costal fisheries, wildlife resources and Lake Volta's environment cost at least 475 million dollars annually which is about 5.5 per cent of Ghana's Gross Domestic Product (GDP)," she said.
She said the SEA, as a tool, which was formulated in the second phase of the GPRS, would address major environmental concerns at the strategic level before implementation.
She also said the principle of integrated resource accounting was being considered under the second phase of the GPRS to ensure that proper measurement was provided for national output and expenditure. Ms Churcher said a lot had been achieved in the effort to mainstream environment, as staff of 108 districts had been trained in sustainability appraisal of district plans, while guidelines for sector and district development plans had also been infused.
"The expectation is that the next cycle of plans will have environment properly treated as a cross-cutting issue to ensure a reduction in the cost of environmental degradation in the country," she said.
Mr Arie Van der Wiel, Ambassador of the Royal Netherlands, noted that poverty reduction could only be sustained when economic, social and ecological developments were in balance.
He, however, cautioned that pro-poor growth must not be promoted at the expense of natural resource connection or biodiversity, saying concern about conservation and the environment must not lead to the fight against poverty taking second place.
Mr. Van der Wiel said the Netherlands Commission for Environment Assessment in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ghana had been working towards the development of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) framework and guidelines to ensure sound environmental management.
Mr Daouda Toure, UNDP Resident Representative, said the UNDP found the SEA as a vital tool for putting the environment at the heart of public sector activity, whilst ensuring that alternate strategies, plans and programmes were full and transparently considered before final decisions were taken.
He said most often sustainable development was seen as code word for rationing, which would require people to sacrifice for economic growth, higher living standards and better quality of life in order to achieve long-term protection of the environment.
Mr Toure said UNDP in collaboration with government had embarked on various programmes including building the capacities of Ministries, Departments and Agencies as well as district assemblies to integrate environment into their development plans.