Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Desert March Thretaens To Swallow Northern Ghana

From: Francis Npong, Tamale

The kind of ecological calamity that sent Ethiopia and Sunden’s Darfur from relative food sovereignty to food scarcity may pretty soon fall on Ghana’s lot, as Sahara Desert has continued to turn the northern parts of Ghana into wasteland and marches violently and unstoppably southwards.

According to environmental experts, about 35% of the total land mass of the country has already been swallowed by the advancing desert and the three northern regions, Upper East, West and Northern, which together constitute about 40% of the total land mass of the country are the worst affected area.
It is estimated that the 8.2 million hectares of the closed forest of the country have been depleted leaving a current level estimated at 1.9 to 2.0 million hectares.

This experience has also taken a heavy toll on the economy. For instance, in 1998, the total estimated annual loss due to environmental degradation amounted to GH¢41.7 thousand, representing 4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country.

The three northern regions which fall under the savannah zone cover 55% of the country’s land mass in 1972 and had been expanded to 58.1% by 2000.
Documents at the forestry departments stated that the forest cover of northern zone constituted about 41,600km in 1952, which represent about 46% of the total land area of the three regions, but the unregulated exploitation of these resources to meet the economic needs of the growing population of the people and livestock have reduced the forest cover of the land to semi-desert and wasteland.
Though desertification was arguably the first environmental issue to be recognized as taking place on global scale Africans countries have placed their focuses on physical infrastructure development to the detriment of environment which is now catching up with them. Land degradation, through sand wining, tree felling, bush burning and construction has turned the vegetation cover in Northern Ghana into waste and semi-desert land aggravating poverty, hunger and starvation, diseases, and youth migration, armed robbery among other social vices.
The UN conference on desertification in 1977 in Nairobi and later in 1994, the UN convention to combat desertification was opened for ratification by countries in which Ghana in 1996, December 27, ratified the convention but had failed in implementation of environmental laws.
Several factors were responsible for the desertification and deforestation in northern Ghana. The regions carry about 80% of the nation’s livestock,74.4%, Northern region 43.4% and Upper East 36.5%. an area of with a low rainfall between 645mm and 1250mm per annum and a long dry period of six to seven months and without irrigated grazing lands the consequence of this high livestock population has put pressure on the limited land resources, which sometimes generated conflicts between the owners of the livestock and farmer lands.
The rampant and uncontrollable bush burning for the purpose of either farming or hunting has been a constant culture of the people in these parts of the country and this had destroyed limited organic matter suitable for crop production hence food scarcity, hunger and starvation and increased poverty level.
A sizeable number of trees are felt every day for the purposes of charcoal burning or firewood and construction works have also aided the speedy advance of desertification and deforestation in the north.
The effects of desert encroachment in the Northern Ghana are alarming. Changes of rainfall patterns and climate in recent times have devastated the lands leaving several kilometres of scorched farmlands, leaner livestock, dried dams, and rivers impoverishing the population.
Already, poverty, hunger, diseases and unemployment have begun to force hundreds of the youth from Upper East, West and Northern regions to urban centers as a result of the loss of agricultural farm lands to desert encroachment, turning the marginal area of the regions into wastelands.
It for this reasons that experts at a four-day environmental workshop organised by the Rural Media Network (RUMNET) under KASA project, an environmental mechanism put in place by development partners including CARE International, The Netherlands Development Agency (SNV), and Inter-Church Co-operation for Development (ICCO) called for urgent measures to curb environmental degradation.
The programme which seeks to increase civil society involvement in attaining Natural Resources and Environmental Governance (NRE) was to enhance the capacity of civil society organisations to carry out effective advocacy on the conservation of natural resources. The participants were selected from civil society and media organisations from the Upper East, West and Northern.
The Northern Regional Director of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an interview Mr. Iddrisu Abu lamented that the rate at which the desert was moving into the country. He said the desert keeps advancing southwards from the boundaries at the speed of 0.8 kilometres per annum.
The situation he said has assumed such a magnitude that the minimum vegetation cover in some communities in Upper East region has already fallen below 5% as against the total ecological cover to support life. He desert could be felt at Garu, Zongoiri, Zebila, Paga, Nangodi and Tungu in the Upper East region.

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