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13.11.2005 Travel & Tourism

Deteriorating Environment & Tourism Promotion- Part 2

By Nyarko, Stephen
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Yes we have now had the Presidential Tour which aims to attract more tourists to our shores. I for one will be delighted if this happens and I congratulate the President for at least making the effort. The money the tourists would spend is definitely going to boost our economy. However the issue is given our record on this matter, if they come here in their numbers to explore our national parks, sample our food and experience our rich cultural heritage would the environment be properly maintained. We must make sure that they do that in a clean and tidy environment so they take back something positive apart from the drumming and dancing, so they can tell other people about their experiences to generate more visits and tours.

With the current levels of environmental degradation taking place in our country, something needs to be done drastically to reverse this terrible trend to keep the tourists coming. Most people I have interacted with regarding the issue of cleanliness in Accra, Kumasi and other towns and cities across the country, are of the opinion that the authorities must give this issue a very high priority not only because an unmanaged environment creates health problems, but because it is a serious threat enough to life and limb for a significant number of our fellow citizens, who may end up prematurely loosing their lives because they are living in unsanitary conditions. We should all want tourists and visitors who visit our country to take us seriously and respect us, something that will not happen if we treat our environment in such an atrocious fashion.

The current unsanitary conditions prevailing,(and no I am not talking about the amenity of Airport residential area or that of a stones throw from the Castle driveway), areas where real people live and work, where the tourists will go through before getting to the sites earmarked for them is nothing to write home about. I keep asking myself this question, why have we got such VERY LOW LEVELS OF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY towards the places where we live, work and engage in recreation amongst our citizens? Is it only me who thinks the way local and national officials have MENTALLY BLOCKED OUT the filth, neglect and unpleasantness that reigns on our streets in Ghana today as nothing less than a modern day SCANDAL ?. Why are people not willing to or able to complain any more about the volume and persistence of rubbish and litter on streets and blocked gutters, and are tolerant of Government Ministers and Parliamentarians spending huge sums of foreign exchange importing expensive luxury cars for themselves and engaging in pet projects that will not benefit anyone but themselves, rather than providing REFUSE TRUCKS and SEPTIC TANKERS and other cleaning implements to deal with a problem which is afflicting and negatively impacting on peoples lives ? Then again you cannot blame the citizens if those in government who are supposed to be competent, paid to be responsible and deal with these basic issues are deliberately ignoring the problem because they do not know what to do.

I am sure I am not the only who has also noticed another growing cultural attitude and mindset that has developed amongst fellow citizens. The worrying phenomenon of just looking good in ones latest designer wear and imported wax prints, but blocking out all other things around ones surroundings and environment, whilst erroneously thinking that ones appearance, would give one respect and status in society no matter what their surroundings look like. The sad fact is, not taking care of environmental amenity can kill and can kill massively as the recent Ministry of Health statistics confirmed.

Being the first Country south of the Sahara to throw off the “White Man's Yoke” I know my countrymen relish in their image abroad, especially in Europe and the United States where most of the tourists are going to emanate from. I think we risk continuing to put ourselves in a situation of ridicule because our leaders have not understood that the severe environmental problems of waste and poorly maintained public and open spaces in our towns and cities are undermining not only our social and economic development but our image abroad. No foreign tourists or businessman visiting our country is ever going to take us seriously if we can not manage something as simple as keeping the streets cleaned, the gutters desilted and getting rubbish and waste removed on time. Having interacted with a few non Ghanaian Tourists to make the jump, some of them seriously do think the way we treat our environment is the same way we manage our institutions, socio- economic developments and programmes. Perhaps they may be right in certain instances, so why should they take us seriously or respect us ?

The whole issue of Environmental amenity comes down to a matter of priorities, but we must change our attitudes to governance on these matters and let the welfare and well being of the majority over ride narrow parochial individual interests. For far too long the AMA's and the KMA's and others have not delivered what is required of them. I know the question of leadership comes in here but the problem needs to be solved somehow for the sake of our children and future generations. In order to solve these problems resource allocation is very important. It must also be drummed into the heads of the officials that in order for lasting change to take place efforts must be made to encourage a more responsible attitude amongst citizens towards their neighbourhood environments. It's a shame how none of these spiritual people quoting divine intervention at every stage when it comes to every issue of life and death are totally uninterested and conspicuously missing from this debate. I am concerned because on a personal level, in my neck of the woods, I have been receiving demands for property rates, but the local district council has never and I repeat NEVER provided me with any necessary service, like even refuse collection, street cleaning or to provide drains on my street or even street lighting . Meanwhile the rubbish is being dumped irresponsibly and nobody is interested in cleaning it up. So I wonder why the local authorities want me to pay property rates when I do not benefit from any environmental service from them. The same mindset that thinks it can just tax people without providing a service is the same one which will wrecklessly approve building permits for building on water courses and creating problems for everyone. May be I need to challenge my property rate demands in the courts to set a precedent.

This attitude must change and for the sake of our children we must develop clearer arrangements for the maintenance of the environment in all neighbourhoods if we expect them to pay for the service. Service planning and resource allocations need to be re-examined and they must take more account of local neighbourhoods and their needs. We must develop a standardise approach where environmental services such as street cleaning, desilting gutters and refuse collection must be provided to residential neighbourhoods on a ward by ward basis, or is it unit ? Whatever, or a cluster of them, equipped with a refuse trucks and septic tanks and the necessary accoutrements and disposal infrastructure . It is common sense that poorer neighbourhoods in our towns and cities with higher population densities and higher rates of economic activity would give rise to more rubbish and wear and tear, so the proportion of resources, like refuse/tipper trucks, septic tanks, street cleaners, wheelbarrows e.t.c, allocated and the frequency of cleaning would have to be higher than other areas like say Hipic Junction.. But what happens, the resources are not there, they are skewed in favour of relatively better off areas. The priorities for social spending have also been always disproportionately distorted to favour the elites who have CAPTURED THE STATE for their own benefit. In Ghana's history, a few greedy ******* have always abrogated to themselves the right to spend Ghana's money on their own priorities of running our governments (mind you in my opinion all governments in the past are guilty of this charge) in an ostentatious and luxurious manner ( and you cannot tell me I am wrong when the evidence is all over the place). I wonder how many of them would be able to survive in the REAL WORLD, without free government money and perquisites they enjoy or have enjoyed at our expense.

At the moment where resource levels are insufficient to address the environmental amenity issues fully, hot-spotting can become a form of “firefighting” to at least get some of the problematic areas tidied up and excess litter and waste cleaned and kept cleaned to make them attractive to look at for the tourists who would be passing through. They know we are trying to entice them but they also know that effective environmental cleanliness and management is very important to decide where they wish to spend their money . I hope the minister understands this.

Proper maintenance of the environment would also benefits our own people, enhances their health and well being, as well as refines their attitudes and behaviours, and earn them respect and goodwill. Therefore officials responsible must look at effective approaches for dealing with this appalling problem. Sufficient resources must by all means be made available, but Mayors and DCE's must also develop a high profile information and education campaign alongside the use of enforcement powers and make it easier for citizens to police each other's behaviour. There has to be a lasting improvement to those whose life chances are constrained by economic, cultural, and social hardship in today's Ghana.

I must add that whilst preparing this piece, a cynical colleague indicated to me that, the reality proves far from the dream and that even though everyone knows that ignoring the issues can KILL, the only way to get Ghanaians to treat their environment with respect and preserve it for future generations, is to invoke a TABOO or FATWA or even better, organise an all night prayer session at some retreat somewhere, invoking divine intervention, fire and brimstone on all who transgress before a modicum of common sense would prevail. Personally I think it would be very sad if it has to come to this, but I am so concerned about lack of any action in my area where I normally reside in Accra that, perhaps I need to stop reminding the local and national officials about their responsibilities to do something about this issue and consider the latter. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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