Monday, February 8, 2016

Climate Change and Bush Fires in Ghana: How to Protect Our Cultural Heritage

By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath 
Bush Fires ravaging a Forest in Ghana
An African proverb admonishes: “When you see a tweak coming towards your face, you don’t wait for it to pierce your eyes before you break it.”

Nowadays, everybody is talking about climate change. To some people it may sound like a cliché. When the term is mentioned at first hearing, people in the developing world have the tendency to imagine that climate change is a phenomenon peculiar only to industrialised nations. Well, there may be some silhouette of truth in that line of thinking, though. It is because the advanced nations are noted for being the originators and worst offenders of climate change and global warming confronting mankind today.

This is due to ubiquitous Green House Emissions (GHEs) and other technological activities they embarked upon at the dawn of industrial revolution for economic gains. Indeed, they are the worst offenders but the reality is that we in the developing countries are at the receiving end of the consequences of climate change today. So, it is in our own interest not to stand and stare. And some of us will continue talking of climate change until thy Kingdom come because it is real like the night follows the day.

The object of this article is not to lecture anybody about the theory of climate change. Rather, to attempt to put a finger on one or two practical causes of climate change that is dealing deadly blows not only to our environment but also devastating cultural heritage and tourist attractions in our beloved country Ghana. They are bush fires!

Shall we say that bush fires “have been with man since Adam?” But what is becoming more alarming is the fact that it is becoming unbecoming since the beginning of this year. For example, Ghana National Fire Service records indicate that within the first two weeks of January 2016, over 114 fire outbreaks have occurred in the Ashanti Region alone. Sources at the Service intimated that that figure represented over 50 per cent of 219 cases registered for the whole of January 2015. 

Furthermore, as of January 11, statistics showed that eight incidents were the results of vehicles which caught fire in road accidents. Domestic fires for the same period were 39 while industrial fires accounted for 5. Shockingly, bush fires topped the league table with 55 ravaging ones during the same period.

When we talk of bush fires we are talking of total destruction of forest reserves like the Achimota Forest in Accra.  Then farm lands with cash and food crops that are devastated, not to mention the ravaging of entire villages with human casualties.  

But what jolted my conscience to write this article was media reports that bush fires have ravaged the vegetation of Afadjato in the Volta Region. Such a monumental national cultural heritage and tourist attraction could be destroyed by bush fires in a twinkling of eyes? What was more annoying was the cause of that fire being firecrackers ignited by some irresponsible and stubborn tourist? And we sit down as a nation leaking our wounds? It is only in Ghana such a thing can be tolerated.

Can any Ghanaian tourist go to Egypt to set those ancient Pyramids ablaze? Can any Ghanaian tourist visit Kenya or Zimbabwe or Tanzania and set their national parks with all their animals ablaze? We Ghanaians are so lousy, selfish, and egoistic with lackadaisical attitude towards things that do not belong to us as private individuals. Our sense of nationalism or patriotism has been scarified on the altar of partisan politics. What a shame!

It would be recalled that when President Mahama recently went to the Volta Region, he called on Togbe Afede XIV, Agbogbomefia of the Asogli State, and expressed concern about bush fires. In fact the President compared this year’s bush fires to those of 1983 when farms were destroyed leading to severe famine and starvation due to harmatan conditions. It is unfortunate that the Hohoe Municipal authorities, Traditional rulers and the people living in the Afadjato vicinity could not prevent bush fires from devastating that God-given heritage to them and the nation.

At the national level one wonders whether the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, the Ghana Tourist Board and others have any national policy in place to protect and preserve Ghana’s cultural heritage and tourist attractions nationwide. Today, it is Afadjato. Tomorrow, which national park will be the next to be set ablaze? Where are the tourist police? Or there is nothing like that to ensure the security of all national heritage and tourist attractions in the country?   

In 2004 this author was privileged to have visited Singapore for the first time for a short training course.  While there, as part of the programme, participants were taken round to see some of their tourist attractions including Sentosa Island and a place called Orchard. The Singapore Orchard is so vast with all manner of fruit trees as well as natural and exotic plants from all parts of the world. Yet, that place was fenced.

Before we entered that paradise-like Orchard, the authorities made sure no one stepped into the yard with any weapons, or implements or anything that may cause fire whatsoever. How come tourists who visited Afadjato site, be they citizens or foreigners, children or adults, were permitted to carry firecrackers along? Don’t we know the infernos firecrackers have been causing to people in this country, and for which reason their importation was banned? As for Ghana we only know how to use “BIG, BIG ENGLISH” to enact laws. Their implementation belongs to dwellers of other planets in the cosmic realm.  

A few suggestions for consideration to whom it may concern: The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Creative Arts, in collaboration with the Ghana Tourist Board, the District Assemblies, the Metropolitan and Municipal Assemblies, Traditional authorities, Forestry Commission and other relevant stakeholders, should undertake a national inventory of  all tourist attractions and cultural heritage instantly. I hope this has already been done.

Then, a specific security strategic body, perhaps, with involvement of national security agencies must formulate a comprehensive National Security Policy of Ghana’s Cultural Heritage. It will be cheaper to fence all tourist attraction sites nationwide than to allow bush fires to devastate such rare national heritage. For all you know some corporate institutions or individual philanthropists interested in touristic values will be ready to sponsor such a project.

Further, it is suggested that UNESCO must be contacted for support in this regard. It is common knowledge that UNESCO is interested in the protection and preservation of world monuments and heritage. What is required is to write a marketable project proposal for consideration.  

If foreign “galamsey” or illegal miners in collaboration with their local cohorts have made up their minds to contaminate and pollute all rivers and waters bodies; destroy all farm lands and forest reserves for their parochial and selfish prosperity, Ghana’s cultural heritage and tourist attractions must be protected and preserved for posterity!

The author works with Information Services Department of Ministry of Communications in