Fire in the east, fire in the west; fire in the north, fire down south: everywhere there is fire, fire, and fire. Thank you for tolerating my perversion of Robert Nester Marley’s “War” which was released in 1976 on the album- Rastaman Vibration. I had to do the reversion to suit our current situation in Ghana. Next, do agree with me that every year this time, most of Ghana’s vegetation is up in flames – fire everywhere, every harmattan, over the last 20 or even 30 years!
That is not the way to fight global warming at your small corner of the globe. That is not how to re-green your country into which the Savanna is making menacing incursions every year. That is not how to succeed in Planting for Food and Jobs. Is that how you set out to implement One-Village, One-Dam? Surely not! Is that how you grow one medium or large enterprise in every district of the country? I’m afraid, not; because most of the factories would require large volumes of water anyway.
The Ghana Water Company, Monday this week, put out an annoying announcement that it is unable to supply the one-third or so of the population, which it reaches, with water regularly until the rains return after March/April. The GWCL’s reason? We have destroyed our vegetations – including those bordering water bodies – and mined right in the beds of our rivers, streams and rivulets. That is irritating because the stated causes have always remained common knowledge and our successive local and central governments, traditional authorities and the Ghana Water and Sewerage Corporation itself (as it was previously called) could have stemmed the suicide mission that has inevitably led us where we are now.
But, it is the painful truth and we either have to live with expanding periods of thirst against a fast-growing population, or sit up to stop and reverse this self-murder we have embarked on unfettered for over a generation now. Can the drought impact be lessened? Can the bush-burning be stopped? Can we have all-year-round vegetation, even if the leaves will wilt, ropes will break and thickets sapped? The answer is one word: YES!
As a southerner growing up in an Eastern Region village in the early 1970s, I had not seen bushfires till I travelled to Anum in the mid-Volta. My next experience was in the Afram Plains in the 1980s. Today, from Accra through Kumasi to Bolgatanga; from Axim to Paga; wherever you pass, there is fire and fire and fire – unless we are in the raining season. Point one is that it is so relatively new and not part of the way we lived. Point two: Burkina Faso that lies north of Ghana and in the heart of the Savannah has made great inroads in rolling back the desert and in actually growing admirable acreages of forest, while we have hewed virtually every rosewood in the north and every silk-cotton tree down south. If it is doable in the harsher clime of Burkina Faso, how many times easier is it not to do it in Ghana, half of which is in the tropical rainfall zone? The difference is discipline and commitment to the set goal.
Point three: the mad rush for the minuscule gem called gold. It is high time you drummed it into our ears that we are not the only country with widespread deposits of gold. Several other African countries do as well. There are big deposits of the mineral still in Europe and other continents: People there don’t dig to pollute their water and the environment the way we do – they don’t commit suicide to get rich or even for existential excuses. The excuse that people engage in galamsey, marijuana cultivation, armed robbery or other crimes because they have no alternative livelihoods is becoming hackneyed, if not sickening. The actual reason is that they know the law will never actually catch up with them. This is a country where the use of motorbikes for commercial transport is outlawed but where okada is the de facto popular means of transport. This is a country where importing, selling or consuming so-called turkey tails is prohibited, but, where ministers lower their car louvers to buy choffi in the streets for their girlfriends.
Recently, pressure has mounted on the President to lift the ban on small-scale mining, an ‘offside trap’ to get him thrust the gates open for both galamsey and permitted small-scale mining, the difference between which is difficult to find anyway. You shouldn’t allow small-scale mining – whether permitted or galamsey – today, tomorrow or the day after. Indeed, the time has come to make a bold review of large-scale mining to see if it is worth continuing at all. The probable exceptions would be stone quarrying for construction, sand winning for building and bauxite mining for local industrialisation, if you can vouch for its hygiene. The condition of our environment has reached critical heights comparable to a strange disease. And, remember, unusual maladies can only be treated with unusual medications.
When the nomadic herdsmen strike, they have the effrontery to drive their hundreds of cows straight into the only ponds and stagnating streams remaining as the villagers’ ‘potable’ water. Guess what? The cattle, sheep and goats do not only drink the water to the last drop; they also defecate into the mud they leave behind to mix with the next water to collect in the bed to be consumed by the actual owners. As for the cowboys raping virgins and their mothers, you may be conversant with the abomination. What you probably do not know is that some are also as daring as to puncture holes on the huge pipes conveying water from the Afram, Volta lakes and big rivers to treatment plants or for distribution. The object is not only to water their animals, but, also to irrigate a radius of dry land to sprout fresh grass and other vegetation to nourish their emaciated animals. Can you imagine! Now, the point here is that galamsey, nomadic herdsmen’s offences etc all speed up, or worsen, the shortage of water.
It is only this land of our birth that foreigners can turn into the land of our death. Those who know me know I’m not homophobic. But I shudder to think that our nephews who sojourn to Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Libya – name them – are harassed from selling the paracetamol they carry or do the ‘shoe-shine boy’ they hope to be, and yet, people from those same countries are tolerated to rape our mothers, sisters and daughters here – often with the tacit connivance of some chiefs, police commanders and local political leaders.
The thrust of Ghana Today is that we are incinerating this country for generations unborn. The weatherman has warned that the conditions could become so severe that cocoa and other productions will become impossible in only about 20 years from now. Diseases could multiply and this beautiful land of our birth would become simply uninhabitable. We could be shocked in the near future.
Let the authorities stop the firing of the bushes for grass-cutters, rats, beila and mice. Government should stop the illegal tree felling, never mind some parties promise to allow and encourage the illegality when canvassing for votes. The illegal mining that has been minimized should be stopped once and for all. The cultivation of crops too close to riverbeds is not only illegal but also against the customs of our forebears who, being far wiser than us, made it a taboo. Stop that!
A total of 3,436 bushfires were recorded during the first quarter of 2016 and 1, 852 fires counted same period in ‘17, according to online medium Ghana News, which quotes the Ghana National Fire Service. When I called Billy Anaglatey, the Public Affairs Chief at the GNFS, last Wednesday, he said 191 bushfires had been recorded between January 01 and 30. The apparent reduction of incidents could be deceitful: bushfires from January to March of 2016 cost your country GHC842,816.90 (almost a billion), while even the relatively fewer outbreaks in 2017 gulped GHC6,160,173.87 (more than half a billion!) What remains clear is the fact that fire is wasting our resources and putting the lives of our future generations in jeopardy. We need to stem the unsustainable tide before it becomes too late. The way to stop bushfires is to stop bushfires.
No dwarfs set the vegetation ablaze as some people are wont to claim. It is not true that, at times, the sun shines so much, the temperature rises so much that fire sparks off on its own. Fire ignites at 233 degrees Celsius; the sun’s heat here nowhere nears that. It is not true that those who set fire to the bushes are ignorant of the law and should be educated; they know it is criminal and harmful. They are enticed by the immediate and fleeting self-gain they will get. It was one of those Anti-Bushfire Campaign launches. Jerry Rawlings, then President, did the opening at the Afram Plains. Someone asked him: “You say, if we cut down all the trees and burn all the bushes, the rains will stop; does it rain on the seas? What tree is on the sea?” Such cynicism!
…with A. C. Ohene