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

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