Forest: Nature At Your Service

Saving the forest signifys mans readiness to save their own lives.

On Sunday, June 5, 2011, countries around the globe marked this year’s World Environmental Day (WED) by holding various activities.

Since June 5, 1972, WED has been commemorated each year to focus on the evironment and highlight some positive programmes and initiatives that others are undertaking to protect or restore natural heritage.

The Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.

On the same day of the conference, the General Assembly adopted a resolution, which led to the creation of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and WED has since been held each year by a different city.

The theme for this year’s WED was ‘Forest: Nature at Your Service’ in support of the International Year of the Forest.

The UN declared this year as the International Year of the Forest, under the theme, ‘Forest For the People.’

The theme draws attention to the variety of life-supporting services that the forest provides and calls for action to taken to protect the forest and its natural resources.

India was the global host country for this year’s WED after it was rated one of the best countries in the world where the forest is protected adequately.

Though an estimated 1.2 billion people live in India and continue to put pressure on the country’s forests especially in densely populated areas where people cultivate marginal lands and contribute to desertification, the Indian Government has come out with solutions.

While the socio-economic pressures on the country’s forests are tremendous, India has instituted a tree-planting system to combat land degradation and desertification, as well as established windbreaks and shelterbelts to protect agricultural land.

Currently, forest constitute over 20 per cent of geographical land area of India and on June 5 experts, policy makers and foresters from other countries had the opportunity to learn about the measures being taken by India both at the international level and the local level to combat degradation and conservation of its forest resources.

Nearly one and half billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods throughout the world with over 300 million people living in the world’s forests.

Forest provide habitat for more than 80 per cent of terrestrial biodiversity while over 40 percent of the world’s oxygen is produced by forests.

More than a quarter of modern pharmaceuticals are derived from plants, with a value exceeding $180 billion per year.

Forests provide water, food, medicine, fuel wood and serve as livelihood for people in general and for the riparian communities in particular.

Additionally, the plants absorb the carbon in the atmosphere and produces oxygen, which human beings inhale to guarantee their continuous existence.

However, the world stands to loose all these benefits as the forest in many countries are being degraded.

While efforts are being made to protect the forest and its natural resources in some countries, in other parts of the world, particularly in Africa, degradation of the forest and depletion of water resources are threatening the welfare of people and aggravating their vulnerability to climate change.

Experts observed that forest resources are dwindling at a very fast rate and this has a tendency to pose serious threat to human existence.

Martin Nganje, Senior Forest Programme Officer of the Regional Programme for Central and Western Africa of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN –PACO), observed that there is a lot of pressure on Africa’s forest resources.

A study, he said, estimates that the continent as a whole lost about one million hectors of forest between 2005 and 2010.

“If nothing is done about this we will lose more and that will be dangerous.

“We can save the forest by planning the use of forest resources and involving the communities that depend on the natural resources for their food, medicine, income and wood fuel.”

Ghana’s total forest cover of 8.2 million hectares 100 years ago has been reduced to only 1.5 million.

Every year 62,000 hectares of forest is lost and the Minister of lands and Natutal Resources, Mike Allen Hammah, noted that if the current trend continues all the country’s forest would be gone in the next 25 years.

The forest cover is being destroyed through activities such as mining, farming, illegal logging, human settlement, among other things but the pepetrators do not consider the negative effects of their activities on the forest and their own lives.

Mr Hammah said several efforts are being made to address the degradation of the forest through policy and legislative reforms, capacity building, awareness creation and consultation with major stakeholders in resources management.

According to experts, degradation of forest is facilitating  climate change.

Some of the negative effects of the depletion of forest include destruction of the biodiversity and tourist potential, as well as reduction of rainfall.

Forest degradation can also contribute substantially to poverty, as large segment of society depend on it for their food and income.

The Okyehene, Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panyin, who has been a leading advocate of environmental issues, revealed that over 80 per cent of his state’s forest has been degraded through legal and illegal commercial logging, unsustainable agricultural practices, bad mining practices, over population and expansion of settlements, poor environmental laws and poverty.

“We believe the best thing to do is to reduce the pressure on the forests and plant more suitable tree species to increase the size of the forest, as well as manage the existing ones to meet the needs of future generation.”

In the next 10 years, the Okyeman area would have planted 200,000 indigenous tree species as part of a project that is aimed at educating the people on the need to conserve the forests.

The Okyehene said by planting more trees, it will be possible “for us to meet our obligation under international protocols and conventions”.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Forestry Commission, Samuel Afari Dartey, said Ghana has started a foresty restoration project under which over 30,000 trees would be planted by 2015.

The project, according to him, would also serve as a mechanism for rural job creation and ultimately help to reduce poverty.

In Ghana, indiscriminate felling of trees is on the rise.

The ministry has therefore announced plans to clamp down on the activities of chain saw operators.

There is the need for forest reserves to be protected, Mr Hammer said, calling on residents living near the country’s forest reserves to join hands with government in the fight to “save our forests and our lives.”

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on: June 7th, 2011 in Special Report     No Comments »     Continue reading

Human Or Housing Right?

Thousands of people in developing countries are at risk of being evicted forcibly from places they describe as their homes.

Forced evictions, according to experts, would make them vulnerable to other human rights violation.

Data released by the UN-Habitat indicate that about a billion people around the world are slum dwellers.

Most poor rural dwellers are not part of the 828,000,000 people, who live in slums across the world.

Out of Ghana’s total population of over 24 million, 4.8 million are slum dwellers, representing 45 per cent of urban population according to the People’s Dialogue on Human Settlements.

The supporters of human rights around the world particularly Amnesty International, are championing the fight for the housing rights of people, who live in slum areas.

In line with this, Amnesty International has called on governments in Africa, in particular, to appreciate the internationally-recognized rights of their citizenry.

Forced evictions are endemic in Africa and every year hundreds of thousands of people are rendered homeless, making them vulnerable to a host of other human rights abuses.

A forced eviction is the removal of persons from their homes or land they occupy against their will without legal protections and other safeguards.

Under international law, evictions may be carried out only as a last resort, once all feasible alternatives have been explored, and only if procedural and legal safeguards are in place.

These include genuine consultation with the affected people, prior adequate and reasonable notice, adequate alternative housing and compensation for all losses, safeguards on the execution of evictions, and access to legal remedies and procedures, including access to legal aid where necessary.

Governments are also required to ensure that no one is rendered homeless or vulnerable to other human rights violation as a result of eviction.

Though it is agreed that not every eviction that is carried out constitutes a forced eviction, it is a violation of the rights of the victims if all the legal safeguards and protections required under international law are not complied with and if the use of force is used.

In Ghana and other parts of Africa, many people live in slums and informal settlements and are not able to access  essential services such as sanitation, clean water, primary education, and health care.

Amnesty International observed that in most places state-provided security is almost non-existent and women and children are all too frequently exposed to abuses.

“In many countries the authorities ignore the plight of people living in slums and informal settlements and exclude them from national plans and budgets.”

These failures constitute a violation of the right to adequate housing and access to water, sanitation, education and health and equal protection of the law, among others.

“Governments in Africa must end forced evictions, ensure equal access to public services and promote the active participation of people living in informal settlements and slums in decisions and processes that impact their lives.”

In February 2011, Amnesty International Ghana urged city authorities to put a stop to the eviction of families living along the railway lines in the nation’s capital.

Thousands of railway dwellers in Accra are expected to  make way for the revamping of the railway system but Amnesty International thinks many of those people have nowhere else to go and will be rendered homeless.

Plans have been developed without consulting the railway dwellers on how they will be affected and there are no plans for resettlement or compensation.

“Their eviction will only deepen their poverty,” said Amnesty International Ghana.

Although Amnesty International appreciates the authorities’ intention to re-develop the railway system to develop the country, the government of Ghana must ensure that development programme are carried out in a manner that protects the rights of all people who may be affected.

In Chad and Kenya, tens of thousands of people also face forceful eviction from their homes without due process, adequate notice, consultation, alternative housing or compensation.

A few victims in Chad went to court and won cases against the government but few court decisions were enforced.

The Chadian government, according to Amnesty International must stop evicting people from informal settlements in N’Djamena until safeguards are put in place to ensure that all evictions comply with international human rights standards.

Amnesty International has therefore urged all governments in Africa to promote sustainable urban development by respecting, protecting and fulfilling the right to adequate housing and other human rights of people living in informal settlements and slums.

In particular, Amnesty International calls on governments to take immediate measures to ensure a minimum degree of security of tenure for all people who lack such protection in genuine consultation with the affected groups.

It would be recalled that prior to the Session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), held between April 11 and 15 April 2011 on the theme Sustainable Urban Development through Expanding Equitable Access to Land, Housing, Basic Services and Infrastructure, African governments were asked to protect the housing rights of their citizenry went up.

Organisations such as Amnesty said the governments must end forced evictions and adopt guidelines for evictions, based on the UN Basic principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement, which comply with international human rights law.

Governments must also ensure that people living in slums have equal access to water, sanitation, health care, housing, education and policing that complies with human rights as well as ensure the active participation of people living in slums in any upgrading, planning and budgeting processes that affect their lives.

To improve the lot of slum dwellers, the Ghana Chapter of Amnesty international thinks there should be a change in the nation’s laws.

It believes that Ghana’s constitution must be amended to protect housing rights and ensure that tens of thousands of slum dwellers are not threatened,” Amnesty International said in a document released today.

“We don’t sleep well. Living under threat of forced describes how Ghana’s 4.8 million slum dwellers are often deprived of basic services such as clean water and basic health care as well as having no protection under domestic law to prevent them from being forcibly evicted.

“Ghana has signed seven regional and international human rights treaties that require it to fulfil the right to adequate housing but this is not reflected in its domestic laws,” said Laurence Amesu, director of Amnesty International Ghana.

“This glaring discrepancy must be urgently addressed. Ghana’s government should not make paper promises it has no intention of fulfilling.”

The right to adequate housing has been explicitly recognised as a human right in international treaties including several to which Ghana is a party.

Forced evictions contravene the treaties, which Ghana has signed.

They include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The rest are the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

Ghana became a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights in 2000.

The treaty obliges it to take “whatever the necessary steps” to acknowledge the rights of people to adequate housing.

The threat to evict people from their homes without measures to ensure that those affected do not become homeless constitutes a violation.

In Ghana most economic, social and cultural rights are spelt out in Chapter 6 as directive principles which are not enforceable in a court of law.

In a 2002 case brought against the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) by slum dwellers who were expected to be evicted, the judge ruled that “the mere eviction of plaintiffs who are trespassers…does not in any way amount to an infringement of their rights as human beings.”

“Forced evictions make Ghana’s housing shortage worse and drive more people into homelessness and poverty,” said Laurence Amesu.

“People who are forcibly evicted face homelessness and destitution and have no choice but to live in the ruins of their former homes or move to another slum area.”

Slum dwellers interviewed by Amnesty International described the fear and insecurity of living in areas marked for redevelopment.

Thousands of people living in informal settlements next to railway lines in Accra are to be evicted to make way for a new rail system. Some have lived there for more than 17 years.

“One day they will just wake up and come and demolish. Perhaps tomorrow they will come. We don’t sleep well,” Coffie Nissar, who lives in the area, told Amnesty International.

By Emelia Ennin Abbey

Posted on: May 31st, 2011 in Special Report     No Comments »     Continue reading

Agriculture In The Volta Region

Farmer working on her farm

The Volta region will soon commence the production of oil following the announcement that the Keta Block holds over 1.4 billion barrels of oil.

To the Voltarians, it is old news, as prospecting teams drilled wells both offshore and onshore in the area in the 1960s.

Stakeholders know that agriculture would play an important role in the area when oil starts flowing.

The region is unique because it transcends the various climatic zones of Ghana: From the coastal savannah belt through the forest belt to the northern savannah. Thus all the vegetation zones in Ghana are represented in the region with various agriculture products.

Another distinctive feature of the region is the temperate climatic condition in the hilly parts of the region where products like apple, among others could be cultivated.

Indeed agriculture is the principal source of livelihood within the Volta basin.

The Volta basin includes some of the most important agricultural districts noted for the production of cereals (mostly maize) and tuber crops such as yam and cassava.

In the lower Volta basin, comprising the Accra and parts of the Ho-Keta plains, livestock rearing also constitutes an important agricultural activity. There is a vast area within the basin for irrigated agriculture, although there are just a few existing irrigation schemes like the Aveyime which is producing the now famous Volta Rice and the Afife which needs rehabilitation.

Despite the limited extent of irrigated agriculture within the Volta basin, irrigation is nevertheless the dominant source of consumptive demand for water resources.

Within Ghana, demand for water for irrigation in 2000 has been estimated at 565 million cubic meters per year (MCM), compared with 138 MCM for domestic use and 26 MCM for livestock (Andah & Gichuki, 2003).

In the coastal belt, vegetables like shallot, okra, pepper, tomatoes and others are extensively produced.

The coconut industry that nearly collapsed has been revived and is thriving.

In the middle savannah belt, we have sugar cane, cassava, maize, sweet potato, garden egg, mango, pawpaw, water melon, cow pea, oil palm and groundnut which are consumed locally and then sent to the West African markets.

In the forest belt, we have cocoa, coffee, cocoyam, rice, kola nut, ginger, plantain, banana and oil palm.

Cocoa farming in the belt was declining as many people left the area to other places.

Recently, the cocoa marketing decided to revive the industry there and encouraged the people to go into serious cocoa farming.

In the Northern Savannah belt, we have yam, groundnut, cassava and others.

The stakeholders have taken upon themselves to add value by establishing factories for agric-industry.

One outstanding example is the Aveyime rice complex, which has its own milling and polishing machine.

A sugar cane plantation is being run by a venture between Brazilians and Ghanaian investors.

The Volta Regional Coordinating Council, in collaboration with other stakeholders and organizations like the Volta Foundation, has put some mechanism in place which is helping investors both foreign and locals to get land easily.

The regional council and the organizations, with the help of the municipal and district councils, have been sensitizing the chiefs, elders and individuals in the region about land acquisition.

In the fishing industry, efforts have been made to train the locals to go into fish farming in the Keta Lagoon, the lower part of the Volta River and on the Lake.

In the animal husbandry sector, companies are being encouraged to take advantage of the traditional method of animal rearing and improve upon it to enable them to export some of the products like cattle, sheep and goats.

The Volta region is also taking advantage of the research base established by the Brazilian government to produce healthy plants and animals in Accra for the African region to boost food production.

At the last year’s Volta Trade and Investment fair held in November and December at Ho, the regional capital, a forum was held by the Volta Foundation during which all the participants called for an intensive agriculture production in the region. Some policies were adopted to make the region sufficient in food production in three years.

They were of the view that with the production of oil and the proposed construction of the harbor and airstrip in the Keta Municipality, there was the need to ensure food security.

The Volta Foundation, under the presidency of Dumega Raymond Okudzeto, has also put plans in place to tour some of the agriculture establishments in Brazil by the end of the year so as to pick the latest knowledge in agriculture production.

According to Dumega Okudzeto, Ghana should take advantage of the vast experience that Brazil had acquired in agriculture.

By Amos Amaglo

 

 

 

Posted on: May 24th, 2011 in Special Report     No Comments »     Continue reading

Living on the Forest

Forest

Nana Bangura, 47, lives in Sunguita, one of the villages bordering the Souty Yanfou Forest, located in the south of Guinea.

She moved from her former place of abode in Kindia about 16 years ago not just to get closer to nature but to survive.

“My husband and I are farmers and we need good soil for our crops. Near the forest and in this area the land is good and many farmers live here,” said Nana Bangura, who is a mother of seven.

In all, over 27,000 people live in 33 communities that are lined-up around the rich and diversified forest which is home to a wide variety of animals, including birds and different types of trees. It is the source of seven waterways that transcend the boundaries of Guinea.

The Souty Yanfou Forest got its name from two mountains which are part of the popular Fouta Jallon Highlands that spans five countries, namely Sierra Leone, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Senegal.

Aside the rich forest, Souty and Yanfou, two separate mountains located between Kolente and Sunguita, are 800 meters and 1 kilo meter high respectively.

In 1943, the area that spans over 11,000 hectors was classified as a protected forest cover to preserve the natural resources.

As a result of human activities such as farming, building of huts for shelter, hunting, charcoal burning it was observed that forest resources such as trees were disappearing and without the trees the animals were bound to look for another habitat.

Currently, 1,000 hectors of land and the trees have been lost as the forest area has now been reduced to 9600 hectors from 11,000 hectors when it was discovered.

According to Appollinaire Togba Kolie, special assistant to the Minister of Forestry, the Guinean government, upon realizing the trend, decided to intervene and save the forest and its dwindling natural resources.

In 1985, the USAID supported the government to start two restitution projects on the management of the natural resources with the main objective of involving the riparian population in the management of forests as well as sensitizing them on the benefits they stand to gain if the forest is sustainably managed.

In line with the project, the riparian population was encouraged to form a community, which on behalf of the people, signs contracts with the government, which is represented by the forest commission.

This was followed by a concerted development action plan that meets international forest management standard, which is put together by both parties that is set to meet international standard as far as forest management is concerned.

An inventory before the conception of the project indicated that the Souti Yanfou forest, which is a natural habitat for chimpanzees had 16 catchment areas, which needed to be developed as part of efforts to improve the living conditions of the people and to sustain the highlands.

Shortly after Madame Bangura arrived in Songuita she observed the exploitation of the forest.

“People were cutting the trees anyhow. And we were using slash and burn to cultivate our farms but we were told it was not good and we have stopped.”

In an encounter with journalists from 11 West African countries, who attended a five-day regional workshop on forest, water resources and adaptation to climate change, Draman Conle, Prefet of Kindia (a position equivalent to a district chief executive), noted that there are challenges concerning the management of the forest and its resources and his administration was doing every thing possible to help address the problem. Kindia is about 55 kilometers from the Sounty Yanfou forest.

The major issues range from encroachment, reduction in quantity of rain and ground water to a resent noise from the mountains.

“We are addressing these issues as we have sent letters to the Ministry of Environment.”

He observed that many human activities take place in the forest with some people establishing their homes on top of the mountains.

Later in the Sungiuita village, Sylla Namadouba, chairman of the local community committee charged with the responsibility of managing the forest, gave a brief history about the committee.

He stated that it was formed in the year 2000 and is opened to residents in any of the villages close to the protected forest area but they would have to part with 300 Guinea francs.

Every year, an annual general meeting is held to elect new leadership to carry out the mandate of the committee of protecting and conserving the natural resources such as forest and water bodies for the well being of the people.

Traditional practices contribute greatly to the degradation of the forest resources and to address this, he said the committee organized a consultative meeting, which was attended by representatives of all the villages who share ideas and knowledge.

The activities of cattle breeders are being addressed head on.

1000 hectares of land with enough trees and grass on it has been dedicated to this, cattle breeders pay 500 Guinea Francs for each cattle and “if a breeder is found outside the demarcated with his cattle he is fined,” says Sylla.

With support from the government, the committee has embarked on field trips to other countries such as Gambia, Niger and Sierra Leone to learn best practices which they could apply in their country.

Sharing lessons learnt from field trips, the chairman said in Niger they saw how people respect the law, hence the availability of various species in their forests while in Senegal they visited the graves of forest guards who have been killed by hunters. The committee learnt that sometimes one would have to sacrifice for the forest.

He said members of the committee now know how to farm in the forest without cutting the big trees and to line up stones that protect the waterways.

Reports show the Fouta Jallon highland which is home to the Sounty Yanfou forest, is losing several species of animals and plants.

To defend the animal stock of the Sounty Yanfou forest, hunters who are members of the committee, have been mandated to protect the animals.

“However, there is illegal hunting at night we hear gun shots in the night,” he said, adding that the practice of rearing animals here on free range is also not helping the agenda of protecting the forest while there is continuous forest degraded by wild fire caused by farmers who practice slash and burn.

The population, the chairman said, is growing, they need more land but the area is getting narrower.

The committee has therefore issued a directive against bush burning during the dry season since such fires are difficult to control.

“It is a question of mentality we need to strengthen our sensitization for behavioral change.”

He stated that “since the community signed an agreement with government which lead to the formation of the committee we are recognized as the main managers of our forest and even though we know the forest is for government we also know it is for us and we are ready to protect it.”

In the past decade, the committee, through its reforestation project, has planted trees on 15 hectors of land and there are plans to plant more trees in the coming year.

When asked if he had heard about climate change, he answered in the affirmative, noting, “not only have we heard about climate change but we are feeling and seeing it here.”

He explained that the sun is more intense now and “there is more heat from the sun, the sun is now too much.”

Camar Namadouba, Chef du Forest, pointed out that the riparian communities have benefited enormously through the construction of a water facility to tap water directly from a spring in the forest.

The villagers have also benefited from the distribution of improved variety of groundnut and rice seeds, as well as the feed for their cattle.

Mrs. Bangura, whose rice and groundnut farm are near the forest, said she plants every year depending on the season and is guaranteed of rainfall and rich soil.

She smiled to reveal her gold plated tooth in the upper jaw and explained that the land is more fertile here.

She proudly said that she is one of the six women serving as members of the committee and has been able to mobilize 25 women who do not belong to the committee to play a role in the preservation of the forest.

Asked why she thinks it is important to protect the forest, she said “from my farming here I gain money, water to drink, food and I get the air to breathe without which I cannot live.”

By Emelia Ennin Abbey

Posted on: May 24th, 2011 in Special Report     No Comments »     Continue reading

Seeking Better Transportation

Public transport

Over the years, the members of the general public have expressed dissatisfaction with the public transportation system which they described as unreliable, unsafe and uncomfortable.

Statistics indicate that every second people move from one place to the other using all forms of transport.

There are those who travel by air using the various airlines and those who choose to go by sea, while others use trains, buses and cycles.

In Ghana, all these options are available but most people patronize buses, coaches and sleek saloon cars.

According to the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) only 0.66 per cent of the country’s over 24 million people travel by air while statistics indicate that more than 80 percent use vehicles.

This means that more people use the nation’s roads but on daily basis road users encounter challenges such as bad roads and broken down vehicles.

Distant travelers are the worse off in most cases. With time government decided to assist such travelers, promising to improve the situation.

Modern public transportation system in Ghana dates back to 1898 when the first railline was constructed from Takoradi to Tarkwa for the commercial exploitation of gold and the first road constructed between Accra Harbour (now Jamestown) and Dodowa to Larteh in 1905 to facilitate the export of palm fruits.

In 1927, the Accra Town Council operated bus services in four cities including Accra, Kumasi, Sekondi–Takoradi and Obuasi.

The then government, in line with efforts to promote efficient public transportation, established bus service companies such as Omnibus Services Authority (OSA), State Transport Company (STC), City Express Services (CES), and lately Metro Mass Transit (MMT) Limited.

However, today the story is different, since all the state-owned public transport companies have performed badly.

Due to the situation, government was compelled to liquidate OSA in the 1990s, while STC and CES were divested.

The renowned State Transport Corporation (STC) has competed with private operators in the sector such as Kingdom Transport Services, Pergah Transport-Hiring Coaches and Gold Link Transport Services.

Today STC, the once vibrant company, is on the brink of collapse with a huge debt hunging around its neck.

The problem dates back to the time when the company was operated by VANEF and even the private sector partnership that the Inter City STC entered into with the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) did not improve the situation.

The partnership has not injected a pesewa into the business which is rather running down.

Brigadier General (Rtd) Edward Lord Attivor, General Manager of STC, who has a difficult task ahead, said the company needs recapitalization and equity injection or liquidation because it had been bankrupt for over five years with a debt of $15 million.

The company is in serious financial crisis due to its debt to three banks, the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), Ghana Oil (GOil) and other institutions to the tune of $15 million.

“80 percent of our clients have sought other options since we are not able to maintain schedules.”

At present, the company’s coaches have reduced from 71 to as low as 30 as a result of its inability to access spare parts.

According to the General Manager, the main cause of the company’s woes can be attributed to the lack of planning.

Other on the other hand, he thinks it is rather due to mismanagement and corruption.

According to a source, the STC generates an average annual revenue of about GH¢10million.

He was of the view that a lot of work has to be done to get the company back on its feet and expressed the hope that the government would support it fully to gain back its integrity.

STC would have to revitalize its operations in order to survive in the present environment.

In recent times, passengers of the intercity bus services have frequently petitioned the company’s management over delays, missing items, among others.

To effectively carry out its mandate of offering reliable, safe and comfortable transportation services to its clients, the company’s fleet ought to be replaced after every four years.

Its current fleet is over four years old but the lack of finances has virtually stalled efforts by the company to secure new buses.
The buses of the company frequently break down.

The Business Development, Marketing and Public Relations Manager of STC, Gabriella D. Tettey attributed the frequent breakdown of the buses to the pressure on the vehicles.

She noted that the company is currently facing difficulties “but that is not threatening our viability at all.”

According to Alhaji Collins Dauda, Minister of Transport, government will do its best to revitalize the ailing Intercity STC to turn around the fortunes of the company.

The most appropriate way to change things, he said, would be to invite a private investor to partner the company and buy stock, adding that negotiations were underway with the management of Metro Mass Transport (MMT) and another transport service delivering company to offload some of its buses and coaches to STC.

“Government is determined to provide Ghanaians with good transport services and would seek ways to revamp the STC,” the minister stated when he visited the company in Accra to discuss possible ways of improving the fortunes of the company with the officials.

The Transport Minister appealed to management of the company to come up with cost effective ways of running the company by re-examining its operations.

Many Ghanaians are of the view that government can promote effective and efficient public transport services if it considers the introduction of bus priority lanes, proper traffic management planning, assist the company to acquire new coaches and provide spare parts for the coaches.

By Emelia Ennin Abbey

 

 

 

 

Posted on: May 18th, 2011 in Special Report     2 Comments »     Continue reading

Worker’s Safety at Risk

With an increased enforcement of occupational health and safety laws many lives can be saved.

April 28, 2011 started as a normal fine Thursday morning with blue skies and the tropical sunshine of Africa at work.

Little did workers of the Western Steel And Forgings Limited in Tema know that an unfortunate incident would occur at the company, where they have been working for some time now. For them it was a normal working day.

Martin Gyekye, a 34-year-old worker of the Furnace Department of the company, reported to work, cracking rib breaking jokes with his colleagues and the security details at the main entrance.

If anyone had told Martin that he would go home with even a bruise on his hand he would have questioned it.

When he and his 10 colleagues arrived at the furnace, a supervisor ordered them to top up a container with smelting metal, a task, which should have been done by the night-shift workers.

As usual he changed into his working gear and prepared to break his back for his employer, who paid him a meager salary at the end of the month, but Martin never complained “not even once,” he said.

Though Martin and his friends were not eager to obey the supervisor’s order they had no option than to obliged and so moved to the furnace to carry out the task “because we have no say.”

ACCIDENTS OR INCIDENTS

Positive happenings are seen as a sign of good luck while any unfortunate incident is bad luck.

People do not wish bad luck for themselves, and on daily basis Martin and most of his friends pray and ask for protection of the creator.

Martin joined the company two years ago but in the last seven months, working in the company has become more dangerous.

In less than seven months there have been four explosions at the company.

The first incident happened in December with the second taking place in February 2011, but all these were not reported and the casualties were treated in a nearby clinic.

Though at times there are accidents in some of the departments, which results in injuries none of the incidents has been taken seriously. The injured workers received no compensations or reimbursement for full or partially lost of wages because of a job-related injury or disease.

The greatest fear of the workers is becoming disabled as a results an injury or being dismissed due a fatality.

However, the last two incidents at the Western Steel and Forging Company have brought to the fore violation of health and safety codes by the company that has for years been kept under the carpet.

14 persons, including an Indian staff, sustained severe injuries following two separate explosions at the smelting company in two days, the first on Thursday and the second  in the early hours of the next day, Friday.

One person was killed while two of the victims had their genitals damaged in the last explosion at the Oxygen Plant of the smelter. They were rushed to the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra after the ghastly accident to receive treatment.

Five people, who suffered as result of the explosion at the Melting Furnace Plant, were immediately rushed to the Narh-Bita Hospital in Tema but were treated and discharged. Six others were admitted at the hospital.

A visit to the clinic where the injured workers have been hospitalized showed how they had been bandaged with burns all over them.

In separate interviews, the workers alleged that but for the injured Indian staff, Chandirka Bhagt, the management of the company would not have visited them at the hospital. Mr Bhagt was burnt in the face and legs and was admitted at a special ward of Narh-Bita Hospital.

For four months, the workers have worked tirelessly but have not received any reward for their sweat and it was only when they were on their hospital beds that they became lucky.

A day after the incident, the management of the company visited them and gave them their four-month salaries.

“It would come as a big surprise to me if management continue to foot our hospital bills as the days go by, said a worker, who alleged that the management, is noted for deserting injured workers.

Martin noted that while working at the furnace on that fateful day, a crane loaded with scrap metals came and emptied its contents into the melting canister.

While he was using an iron bar to hit and push the scraps into a chamber where the scraps were supposed to be melted, there was a sudden explosion and he realized that he was hit in the face by fire and became unconscious until the following day when he found himself at the hospital.

The explosion sparked fire, which subsequently burnt his face completely.

REACTION OF LABOUR UNION

Abraham Koomson, General Secretary of the Ghana Federation of Labour, could not fathom why the management failed to report the explosion to the police, which according him, had caused severe damage to the genitals of some of the victims.

Accusing the Inspectorate Division of the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare of negligence of duty, he said the explosions raised serious concerns about the safety of workers in the country’s industries.

The Division, as part of its mandate, has a duty to supervise industry practices and ensure that they conformed to safety requirements and standards “but I can tell you that it has ducked its responsibility, therefore endangering the lives of factory workers in the country” says Mr Koomson.

After several calls and media reports, the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare closed down the company, stating that its industrial practices posed health threats to its workers.

The closure of the factory was based on six good technical points, which the company failed to meet.

They failed to arraign for statutory examination of the environment of the company and also failed to test gas cylinder used for melting process.

There were no effective extract acting system and furnace to remove fumes, as well as bins to contain scrap metals at the furnace to improve the house keeping.

The management also failed to meet the necessary safety measures considering the number of workforce of over 500 workers.

Nana Tamakloe, Public Affairs Manager of Western Steel and Forgings Limited, said the company is developing strategies and adopting necessary safety standards that would prevent future occurrences.

According to some of the workers of the company, the accident could have been avoided if the company had adopted simple safety measures, raising questions about the importance given to workers, especially when the company’s operations were prone to accidents.

It is estimated that every year about half a million workers suffer minor to fatal injuries, if unreported and report cases are considered.

Per the labor laws of Ghana’s Trades Union Congress (TUC), the safety of workers is a management responsibility.

Workers have to work in a clean environment and in industries such as Western Steel and they need safety gears like boots, helmets, overall coats, glovers, masks and goggles.

Kofi Asamoah, Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress, noted that there is a huge decent work deficit in the country, saying it is important that occupational safety, health and the environment are given the maximum attention by employers so that workers could live healthy lives after their working years.

The Minister for Employment and Social Welfare, Enoch Teye Mensah, warned that his outfit will descend on the companies, especially steel companies which might fail to meet the standards of the factories inspectorate.

Speaking at this year’s Worker’s Day celebration on Sunday, May 1, President John Evans Atta Mills gave the assurance that government would continue to provide Ghanaians with an enabling environment for them to get decent work that would give them better remuneration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on: May 11th, 2011 in Special Report     No Comments »     Continue reading

City Authority Fights Hawkers

•Pedestrians can now walk freely

Over the past three years, Mavis Ankrah has been relying on her activities on the streets to meet her basic needs: daily bread, shelter and cloths.

When she relocated to Ghana’s capital Accra from her village, Atabubu in the Central region four years ago she dreamt of staying in a magnificent house with many lights and trees as she saw on television at her grandmother’s shop.

Her aunty, Theodora Amankwa promised to improve her conditions in the city than in the village which has many illiterates and low-income earners.

“She promised to take me to a preparatory school, buy new dresses for me and help me grow into a lady.

She said she will take care of my education until I become I nurse after school,” said the 15-year-old orphan, whose father died five months before she was born. Mavis’ mother died shortly after delivering her.

She arrived in Accra and realized that the houses were not as she had imagined, but they were better than the ones in the village.

She was enrolled into a public school but a year later she was out of school when her aunty lost her job as a secretary.

Mavis sells sachet water (pure water) on the Kaneshie- Odorkor Road early in the morning till 8am and then in the afternoon when she closes from school, she sells till 5:30 pm after which she goes home to cook for her aunty and her three children.

She also cleans the house and does her homework before going to bed.

Mavis, who sleeps after 10:30 pm said, “Since I came to this house I always go to bed tired.”

“Now we are on vacation and I have resumed my duties fully but it is difficult now to sell on the street but my aunty will not accept that.

“Now life is difficult since I have to hide to sell ‘pure water’ as the city authorities, as part of the beatification programme, have embarked on a campaign to rid the city of hawkers.

Under a new directive, which is in line with the Accra Metropolitan Assembly’s (AMA) by-laws, any hawker who sells on the street or buys from a hawker will be arrested and prosecuted.

The new directive started on April 1, and a team of AMA officials monitor activities in the Airport area, the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, First Light at Kaneshie, Odorkor, Sakaman, Malam Junction and Kwashieman.

Since the campaign started hawkers have fled the street and beggars, who solicit money from commuters and pedestrians, have also disappeared for fear of being arrested.

Public Relations Officer of AMA, Numoo Blafo is of the conviction that the campaign would not be a nine day wonder as the city authorities are determined to strictly implement the by-laws to make sure hawkers do not return to the streets again.

“Anyone who commits any of the above offences will pay a fine or in default serve a prison term not exceeding three months or be commuted to perform communal labour.”

Selling on the streets comes with many dangers such as being knocked by a car, and hawkers can loose their wares.

Many of the sellers in the street lose their money to passengers on board moving cars as they are unable to take their monies.

Passengers normally take a product and they change (if the transaction requires it) before they hand over their money to the hawker.

The hawkers obstruct vehicular movements and end up causing a lot of the accidents on our roads.

Before the end of 2010, a commercial vehicle, Benz 207 ran over some hawkers in the early hours of the day killing them instantly.

Michael Nannor, leader of a group of hawkers, who used to sell chewing gums and toffees at the Odorkor first light Traffic intersections, was furious, saying “ever since the law took effect, our lives have been seriously affected.”

“We understand the dangers involved in street hawking, but we have no other choice than to engage in it because most of us are the breadwinners of our families.”

He pleaded with government to do something about the situation since it would render some of them homeless.

For him, the directive that hawkers must sell only at the lorry stations would not help matters “the stations is too small for all of us and the market is not as progressive as in the traffic intersections.”

Now Michaels says he has no skill and his education was terminated at an early state as a result of lack of finance.

He noted that “many of us are not educated but we will gladly quit hawking if the government can offer us any form of employment.”

Since April 4, the AMA has been treating hawkers who violate the assembly’s by-laws with kid gloves by only cautioning defaulters.

Metro guards in their new green over-all attire parade the streets and some vantage points to arrest offenders.

However, the guards have so far arrested and put two traders, Francis Agyiri, 29, and a 32-year-old trader, Mary Baah before an Accra Magistrate Court for engaging in illegal street hawking and obstructing an officer of the AMA in the performance of their duties.

The act is in violation of Section 147 of the assembly’s Act 462.

While Francis was remanded into custody for verbally attacking a Metro Guard, Mary Baah pleaded guilty to a charge of fighting and biting the finger of a Metro Guard. She paid a fine of GH¢480.

Now the male hawkers are threatening to engage in armed robbery while their female counterparts say they will go into prostitution.

For David Ansah, a newspaper vendor who is carrying out his business in spite of the new directive at the airport area, indicated that some of the hawkers come to sell very early in the morning and leave before the metro guards arrive.

He noted that “The newspaper vendors are not included so we can sell.”

Other hawkers have devised new strategies by standing behind the pavement of the streets and display a few of their wares.

But not all the traders are dissatisfied with the new directive, Bernice Otto, President of the Novotel Traders Association is full of praise for the AMA for carrying out the exercise.

She said the markets had been deserted by traders who claimed buyers were not patronizing their wares from the market.

“On the street there is no control and the hawkers can even sell unwholesome products to unsuspecting buyers but in the market there are controls. We have porters who go round daily and we sometimes invite health officials to educate us.”

Full of smiles, Aunty Bernice pledged that her association would support the city authorities to ensure that the hawking campaign is sustained.

“If we want to develop our country to the status of the advanced countries then it will take all of us. All road users must make it a point not to buy from hawkers and they will stop selling on the streets.”

By Emelia Ennin Abbey

Posted on: April 20th, 2011 in Special Report     No Comments »     Continue reading

More Cash From Golden Pod

Last week there was news that Ghana’s cocoa earned more foreign exchange than gold. However, many Ghanaians thought gold was the largest foreign exchange earner in the country.

This means that the golden pod, which has been described as a “virtuous crop,” is generating more revenue for the nation and this well go a long way to accelerate the development of Ghana.

While gold earned the nation $2.98 billion what came into the economy in terms of taxes, royalties, consumables, payments for workers was estimated at $668 million.

Globally, people are increasingly appreciating the value of the golden pod whose cultivation is serving as an immense source of sustainable income to many people in developing countries like Ghana where the crop is widely cultivated.

Though there are different stories of how cocoa, an indigenous plant that was grown in the rain forest of Central and South America was introduced to Ghana, legend has it that the seeds of the golden pod was swallowed by Tetteh Quarshie from Fernando Po, an island in Equatorial Guinea, which is now called Bioko.

Tetteh Quarshie had to steal the beans to bring back to Ghana, then Gold Coast, as the rare and expensive crop was considered a luxurious food for royals and commoners were prohibited from cultivating it. people were also banned from exporting the seed or plant.

Soon large tracks of forest areas were cleared for the cultivation of cocoa by farmers who were producing food crops.

The rapid expansion of the commercial production of cash crops became the order of the day and there was a boom in the market for the cocoa beans which were obtained after the harvested pods have been split open to obtain the beans, and allowed to ferment for the outer pulp to fall off and then dried.

For the farmers who produce cocoa, unlike their counterparts who cultivate other non cash crops, there is always a ready market for their produce as the Government of Ghana buys them through the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) for sale on the international market.

With time farmers who cultivated cocoa became wealthy but today the major problem in the cocoa sector is the socio-economic status of hard-working farmers whose toil is earning so much money for the country.

A study carried out by the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), a global organization comprising both cocoa producing and cocoa consuming countries, revealed that 95 per cent of farmers in the cocoa sector are smallholders living below the poverty line of one dollar a day.

It is estimated that the cocoa sector in Ghana employs over 800,000 people with about 3.2 million farmhands, employing a total of four million people.

These farmers who have low level education, apart from being cheated by the cocoa buyers, are also faced with the major challenge of not being able to access soft loans to expand their business.

They also have to deal with the spread of diseases caused by pests.

Most of them cultivating an average farm size of five hectares or less and are the hardest hit by the price instability.

Of late the cocoa sector is encountering another major problem which is the low physical quality of the cocoa delivered by farmers, who reportedly mix the beans with the purple ones, but the farmers claim the quality of cocoa is not widely recognized by buyers who do not pay them for delivering better quality.

The sadest part is that the cocoa bean is normally exported in its raw state to Western countries where value is added and then imported back to be sold at higher price.

In Ghana, the Cocoa Research Institute (CRI) of Ghana is saving the situation by developing a variety of products from this useful crop including Cocoa Butter Body Pomade,  butter extracted from roasted cocoa.

Other cocoa products on the market include the popular “Alata Semina” soft or liquid soap produced from burnt cocoa pod husks.

CRI has also developed Cocoa Pulp Juice (Sweatings) Products such as Cocoa Jam.

The cocoa pulp juice in its natural state contains some amount of sugar and pectin.

Quality jams are produced from the pulp juice, using standard recipes. Cocoa brandy is produced from the rich cocoa pulp juice in fermentable sugars.

Alcohol is produced from the pulp juice after fermentation and distillation. The alcohol produced is then blended to get an acceptable concentration as brandy.

Though cocoa is produced through the effort of farmers there are other by-products that also support agricultural activities such as Potash Fertilizer.

The ash produced from dried cocoa pod husk is incinerated in an ashing kiln and used for growing cocoa, vegetables and food crops.

Animal Feed is also gotten from cocoa pod husks processed into feed through slicing, partial drying and palletising into granules.

Dr Kwadow Tutu Senior Economist at the Institute of Economic Affairs has stated that in 2009 cocoa earned $1.89 billion with 90 per cent. $1.68 billion went to cocoa farmers and farm hands, staff of COCODOB, taxes and other expenditure.

It is an established fact that those who benefit from the cocoa industry are certainly not the farmers who do all the back-breaking work.

The real profits go to the huge multi-national corporations and government officials who are the managers of the cocoa sector.

Cocoa farmers produce an average of eight bags of the beans per season. At a producer price of GH¢562 per bag, this works up to only about GH¢450  per season.

Cocoa farmers use this same income to pay the cost of extra-labour needed on the farm, as well as pay the school fees and medical bills of their dependants.

Yet, some cocoa farmers earn far less than 4.5 million cedis per season.

Currently, the COCOBOD has set a production target of 1 million tons of cocoa and this means the poor farmers have to work harder.

As Ghana earns more from cocoa as a result of favourable world market prices and increased production, it is expected that a lot more resources will be used to execute social welfare programmes and projects for cocoa farmers.

Currently, February 14 has been declared as Chocolate Day in Ghana and on this day chocolate run out in most shops. It is obvious that people in the world cannot live without chocolate yet most farmers who grow cocoa are poor.

By Emelia Ennin Abbey

Posted on: March 2nd, 2011 in Headline 3, Special Report     1 Comment »     Continue reading

White Gold Campaign

Clothing is a basic need that all human beings want to satisfy.  It is obvious you are in some form of textile even as you read this piece. Most Ghanaians wear fabric spun from cotton, the cool, soft, comfortable and principal clothing fiber.

Cotton is one of the oldest fibers with traces of cotton recovered from archaeological sites of over 7,000 years old.

Some discoveries of shreds of cloth or written reference to cotton have been made by scientists and historians, with the oldest discovery made in a Mexican cave, where scientists unearthed bits and pieces of cotton bolls and cloth. Archaeologists have also found cloth fragments in the Indus Valley of India dating about 3000 B.C.

The total international trade in cotton is estimated at $12 billion but Africa’s share is marginal.

For example while raw cotton exports from the United States are estimated at about $4.9 billion, Africa’s share of the cotton trade is estimated to be around $2.1 billion.  However reports indicate that Africa’s share of the cotton trade has doubled since 1980.

In the case of Africa, exports of raw cotton are occasioned by an absence of any significant domestic textile industries to add value to cotton grown by numerous smallholder farmers.

Mostly referred to as white gold, cotton is a major cash crop cultivated in most parts of the world including Ghana but in the past few years the booming cotton sector has become a pale shadow of itself.

Cotton as a plant grows widely in many places on earth, but in Ghana it is cultivated in the three Northern regions namely the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions where it is supported by the land and favorable climatic conditions.

The white Gold can be put to many uses apart from transforming it into yarn or thread and used in the textile industry, the seed is a source of quality edible oil and a by-product after the extraction of oil is a cake that is excellent feed for livestock.

Yet in Ghana cotton is only used to make fabric. Ghana Cotton Company Limited (GCCL) used to be the main source of cotton, which bought cotton from farmers in the three northern regions but currently the fortunes of the company has drastically declined over the years due to both internal and external factors.

In addition the managers of the GCCL who have been accused of mismanagement of the once vibrant company have also been blamed for the absence of subsidies to cotton farmers, high interest rates on loans for agriculture, poor loan recovery from farmers and above all, a bearish world market price for the commodity.

Government have been blamed for paying little attention to the cotton sector and years of appeals to managers of the economy to address the situation seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

In March 2010, almost 400 workers of the Ghana Cotton Company Limited were sacked because the company was collapsing.

To worsen matters, about 367 service providers of especially, fertilizers, cotton seeds and other input suppliers also suffered the same fate since they could no longer supply the GCCL with their products for onward distribution to the farmers at reduced prices.

A study conducted into the operations of the textile industry in Ghana has revealed that the few local textile manufacturing firms who are currently operating depend heavily on imported raw materials.

To reverse the trend, government last year announced plans to collaborate with Egypt in the fields of research, private sector investment, seed and textile production, marketing, and transfer of knowledge and skills to revive the cotton industry in Ghana.

This agreement was reached when the Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Mahama Ayariga held bilateral talks with the Egyptian Ambassador to Ghana on the development of the cotton industry in the three Northern regions of Ghana.

According to Mr Ayariga, all available options that would facilitate the development of a vibrant cotton industry would be exploited.

Such options, according to him, would include the tapping of experiences and best practices of countries that produce cotton to ensure that the cotton industry survives the test of time.

Mahama Ayariga said Ghana would benefit immensely from the production of cotton by supporting a lot of economic activities in the three Northern regions, adding that this would go a long way to facilitate poverty alleviation.

“Egypt has been producing long yarn cotton for the past 200 years and therefore something must be learnt from them. As part of this collaboration, experts from the two countries would establish about 1000 acres of farm on pilot basis.

Under the project to revive Ghana’s cotton sector, private companies have been assigned zones to produce cotton in the cotton belt, and government is scheduled to launch a white Gold campaign this week in the three northern regions.

The campaign would start with community durbars for farmers in the zones in the three Northern regions and then climaxed with the launch in Tumu, Nanton and Guru from February 21 to March 24, 2011.

As part of plans to improve the cotton industry, two major policy decisions have been taken including the assignment of zones to private companies to carry out cotton production while GCCL’s previous mandate of producing cotton seed have been scraped.

The private companies include Wienco Ghana Limited, Olam Ghana Limited, Plexus and Amajaro Ghana Limited.

However plans to revamp the almost collapsed cotton industry in the view of expects would only succeed if some recommendations such as the formation of cotton producer groups; pre-financing of farmers and subsidies on agricultural inputs to reduce cost of production as well as the introduction of a crop rotation system with food crops that would help the restoration of soil fertility are given serious attention.

According to Nana Akrasi Sarpong, Agting Director of Communications and Public Affairs at the Ministry of trade and Industry, government is working closely with development partners such as the World Bank and African Development Bank to develop the appropriate institutional and regulatory framework to support a rapid revival of the sector.

He expressed the hope that about 100,000 farmers season would benefit from the impressive world market prices of cotton during the 2011.

He therefore urged all stakeholders to corporate with government to make reforms in the cotton sector.

By Emelia Ennin Abbey

Posted on: February 22nd, 2011 in Headline 4, Special Report     No Comments »     Continue reading

Climate Change Ushers In Severe Harmattan

•The Ghana National Fire Service wants the public to prevent bushfires like this one It is common to see both ladies and gentlemen use sunglasses of all shapes, colours and designs these days. But do not be deceived as many of them use the sunglasses to protect their eyes from the rays of the sun and the tons of dust that is blowing all over and not for the sake of fashion.

During the Christmas holidays, Ghanaians woke up one morning to experience a foggy climate and for the rest of the days they have been battling hazy and dry weather conditions.

In times past, Ghanaians anticipated the Harmattan during the early part of November, which is the biggest natural reminder that Christmas was around the corner. From November, the Harmattan reaches its peak in January and usually lasts until early February each year.

However, in the last five years things have changed, the red dust and dry weather conditions have not been experienced by many people, and this year the Harmattan finally came and it appears to be harsh.

Aside the dusty winds and the fact that the country was recording one of the lowest temperatures in its history, meteorologists and other experts have warned of harsh conditions ahead.

For the first time in the history of Ghana, which is in the tropical zone, temperatures across the country have fallen to temperate zone levels with some regions recording as low as 11.6 Degrees Celsius and 16 Degrees Celsius since January, this year.

According to the Ghana Metrology Agency’s weather report, Bole in the Northern region, which usually records between 28 and above 39 Degrees Celsius, has had a drastic drop in temperature.

On January 1, 2011 the people of Bole experienced the coldest day ever as the ‘weatherman’ said the temperature was 14 degrees Celsius while Wench and Sunyani also recorded 13.5 and 11.5 Degrees Celsius degrees respectively.

The temperature across the country has dropped. The Western Region has so far not recorded extreme dry weather and experts have argued that it is because the region is experiencing some moisture inflow from the sea.

Since the harmattan comes with dryness, fire outbreaks are mostly associated with this season, as dry leaves, bush and even houses can catch fire easily.

This has resulted in an increase in fire outbreaks in the country.

In the Northern region, where the weather is already dry, bush fire is destroying many properties including houses, food crops, farms and forest.

The Ghana National Fire Service, which has on countless occasions indicated that it is under-resourced with fewer tenders to fight the increasing fire outbreaks, has cautioned the public to be cautious during the Harmattan period.

“Harmattan fires are uncontrollable and dangerously risky to fight without fire tenders and the public must make sure they prevent activities that can spark off fire easily,” says Deputy Public Relations Officer of the GNFS, Prince Billy Anaglate.

He reminded the public of the existence of the Bush Fire Prevention and Control Law, 1990 (PNDC Law 229) which imposes fines on people who cause bush fires and added that anybody who violates the law would be handed over to the police.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also advocating the establishment of community fire volunteer corps, as well as encouraging farmers to create fire belts to curb fire outbreaks.

Experts say Harmattan is caused by dry and dusty West African trade wind, which blows south from the Sahara to the Gulf of Guinea.

The West African Trade winds passes over the desert and picks up fine dust particles which settles on trees, buildings and makes visibility difficult.

Researchers from the Department of Geography and Geology, University of Copenhagen, in a study, found that the Harmattan dust deposited in Ghana is a mixture of dust from the Sahara and local dust.

They claimed there has been an increasing input of local dust to the Harmattan.

The Harmattan dust has a great impact on agriculture, health, visibility and the ecosystem.

The dust blows and deposits particles into the eyes of people, including travelers.

Rivers have started drying up and people who depend on rivers as their source of water for household chores now have to walk for long hours in search of water.

The body is also dehydrated during this period which calls for frequent intake of water. This results in brisk business for sachet water sellers who cash in during this time. It also leads to dry skin and lips.

The only way to prevent the lip from breaking is to apply shea butter as a skin moisturizer or lip balm. Shea butter is a vegetable oil extracted from nuts collected from the Shea tree and has proven to be very effective for keeping the skin soft and shinny during the Harmattan.

For Belinda Ofei, the Harmattan season means a boom in business. Though she has been dealing in shea butter for the past eleven years, she recorded low sales in last five years but this year she sits by her wares with a smile and says, “I wish the harmattan occurs through out the year. I sell a lot during this time.”

She explains that most of her clients who use “expensive foreign pomade and body lotions have now put a stop to the practice and now come to me for shea butter and oil.”

The shea butter is usually mixed with a special oil which gives it fragrance and softens the butter.

The Deputy Officer in charge of the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMA) at the Kotoka International Airport, Togbe Gbegbie Fiamekor, has asked Ghanaians to prepare for more harsh conditions since the Harmattan is not going anywhere.

He hinted that the extreme weather conditions and their attendant low temperatures being experienced all over the country are likely to persist until early March.

If this happens then it would make this year’s Harmattan the longest in the last decade.

Many people say the unusual weather patterns in the world are due to climate change and as desertification spreads rapidly in Ghana’s savanna zone and southern tropical forest regions, many people are calling on authorities to put measures in place to address the problems.

Governments all over the world have been urged to do something about global warming, which has been attributed to the use of greenhouse gases in the industrial processes.

By Emelia Ennin Abbey

Posted on: January 25th, 2011 in Special Report     No Comments »     Continue reading