If care is not taken, excessive environmental degradation could result in the country having to import water and timber, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, Minister for Environment, Science and Innovation, has warned.
“You do not need rocket science to tell you that in 15 to 20 years there will be no virgin forest in this country and we will become net importers of wood for all the various things we use wood for,” he said. As a matter of urgency, he urged that Ghanaians have to change their attitudes and halt the constant destruction of forest reserves and water-bodies.
“We are constantly polluting our water-bodies and it is clear that you cannot drink from the rivers and lakes or even use them to bathe or for other household activities. If we do not take care, we will have problems; and once water is polluted it becomes difficult to process.
“We need to be careful because without water and our forests we will be worse-off. Everything we eat comes from the forests and water bodies. We get our food, drugs and oxygen we breathe from them, and so if we destroy the forests we will be destroying our pharmacies and supermarkets,” he said at the launch of a book on Ghana’s environmental laws in Accra.
Ghana’s troubles with pollution of water-bodies are well-documented. From the destruction of rivers and lakes due to rampant illegal mining activities, known as galamsey, to dumping of refuse and other waste materials in water-bodies, environmentalists have argued that Ghana could be running out of fresh water to treat for daily consumption.
Due to excessive deforestation, Ghana’s forest cover has dwindled from a high of 8.4 million hectares as at 1900 to as low as 1.8 million hectares, which experts have pointed out is currently in danger of reducing further. The data showed that between 1990 and 2000, Ghana lost an average of 135,000 hectares per annum and current deforestation rate is estimated to be between 3.2percent per annum.
The extensive forest depletion has seen an excessive loss of jobs in the forestry sector. The grim statistics from Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) 2020 – a global public-private partnership in which partners aim to reduce tropical deforestation – shows that Ghana had over 140 timber companies in operation 15 years ago. Today, less than 50 operate.
In addition, timber – which used to be the third-highest foreign exchange earner after cocoa and gold – has lost its place to oil and gas, tourism and even the non-traditional exports.
“I want to stress on our attitude. If you know what is wrong, do not do it. Some people are very selfish and do not care about our communal welfare but only what brings immediate reward to them. Let us thing about our communal welfare, because we all sink or survive together,” the minister noted.
Mr. Sarpong, the book’s author, in adding his voice noted that the reason why the environment is being destroyed at such an alarming rate is because the laws protecting the environment are not being implemented.
“The fact is we have a plethora of legislation on the statute books which address virtually every facet of the environment, but the problem is one of implementation. It is not that we do not have the laws to punish people or violators; they are there but they are being jettisoned. That is the problem,” he added.
The book, titled Ghanaian Environmental Law – International and National Perspective, is written by George Agyemang Sarpong, a legal practitioner and consultant who has widely published and advised on environmental law and issues in Ghana and abroad. With almost 500 pages, the book is published by Wildy, Simmons & Hill based on London.
“What this book can do is to expose the average Ghanaian to the various legal regimes that govern forest, game and wildlife, rivers and marine environment, and what can be done in the event that people go against the rules put in place to regulate these,” he added.
The book engages with the sources of Ghanaian law which have environmental dimensions: from the 1992 Constitution, statutory regulations to by-laws of the district assemblies, international conventions, case-law, and government policy documents.
The author, however, does not limit himself to legal analysis of primary materials. He interrogates the policy of the law and makes proposal for reforms, where relevant. The book also provides an admirable engagement with comparative materials from foreign jurisdictions.