Thursday, March 24, 2016

Effects of climate change on forests in Africa: Why Ghana must protect her forest cover
By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath
African rain forest
There is this funny African proverb that says: “You don’t value your own buttocks until you develop a boil over there.”
It seems to me that sometimes man takes nature for granted. But nature is very, very kind to man. On Wednesday, 16 March 2016, a two-day international forest conference took off here in Accra the capital city of Ghana. Held under the theme “Forest for the future of New Forest for Africa”, the event was opened by H.E. Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations.
 Coincidentally, H.E. John Agyekum Kufuor, Former President of Ghana is the current UN Special Envoy on Climate Change. Further, H.E. John Dramani Mahama, current President of Ghana is Co-Chair for UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2030). These are positive facts about Ghana which must be celebrated.  
Talking about forests in Africa, Dr. Kofi Annan lamented that the growing demand for wood and other forest products and the activities of illegal miners popularly known as ‘galamsey’ and illegal timber operators were destroying Africa’s forest cover.  In fact, he disclosed that about 130 million hectares of Africa’s “forest cover has been lost since 1990.”
The Former UN Secretary-General called on conference participants from 13 countries made up of experts and stakeholders from Europe, America and the mother continent to discuss possible ways of protecting the continent’s forest cover. This could be done by addressing destructive practices, including illegal logging, illegal mining, wildfires, and unsustainable agriculture.
In Dr. Annan’s view, Africa could generate about $170 billion annually if about 350 million hectares of degenerated forests could be restored. He recalled that at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21, held in Paris, France from 30 November to 12 December last year, African leaders pledged to restore a total of 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes within Africa by 2030.
For the purpose of this article this writer wishes to share some fascinating facts about the value of forests. These are findings of a study recently conducted by the United States of America   Environmental Protection Agency EPA about Forests and Climate.
First of all, the researchers who undertook the study observed that (…) “Perhaps the most alarming fact is that looking at our earth’s history a slight change in the Atlantic Ocean current was what actually caused the downfall of the Roman Empire.” 
They stated that the lack of rainfall also caused the Sahara Desert to enlarge from a small area so that now it is sixteen times larger than a country like France. “This happened because there were no longer spring rains at the head of the Nile River and thus no yearly floods at the delta which brought new soil and moisture to grow enough food for Rome,” the researchers noted.
About the value of forests specifically, the researchers stated: “Forests are most valuable RENEWABLE energy.  Forests clean, purify, humidify and cool the air you breathe.” The study indicates that forests affect our climate and therefore our weather in three ways thus: “they lower temperatures, reduce energy usage and reduce or remove air pollutants.”
Further, the study underscores the fact that “each part of trees contributes to the Climate Control from roots to leaves.” It was explained that leaves help turn down the thermostat to cool the air through a process called ‘evapotranspiration’. Evapotranspiration is said to be the combination of two simultaneous processes: evaporation and transpiration, both of which release moisture into the air.
 Researchers have found that planting one tree to the west and one to the south of a home can significantly reduce energy consumption.” May be most Ghanaian scientists know about this fact. But as a layman, I find this outcome of the study very instructive indeed. Perhaps some Ghanaians who may have already built their own houses or may want do so in the future can determine where to plant trees in their homes.  

The US EPA’s study has established other vital facts about forests. For instance, about what forests ecosystems do for man, it is revealed that, “Forests along with grasses, crops and plants produce 50% of the World’s Oxygen. The remaining 50% is supplied by Marine Phytoplankton and sunlight,” adding that the percentages vary in accordance with the weather. It is explained that from the atmosphere, forest streams provide 50% of America’s “pure drinking water,” the study reveals.

How about Ghana? Do we know what percentage our forests provide to the so-called “pure water” hawked on the streets of our cities? This knowledge may go a long way to empower our law enforcement agents to reason out with illegal chain saw operators to stop destroying Ghana’s   forest reserves ‘by heart’.

Further more, EPA’s study reveals that during evaporation, water is converted from liquid to vapour and evaporates from soil, lakes, rivers and even pavement. Then during transpiration, water that was drawn up through the soil by the roots evaporates from the leaves.

There is no doubt that some of these facts are common knowledge to many scientists and environmental experts in Ghana and Africa.  But the US EPA researchers disclosed that, “a large oak tree is capable of transpiring 40,000 gallons of water into the atmosphere during one year.” The study further indicates that annual cooling costs in America were reduced by eight to 18 percent while annual heating costs were reduced to two to eight percent. “Forests work 24 hours every day,” the researchers pointed out.  

 If forests are working 24 hours every day, do human beings acknowledge the role of forests for their well being so as to express gratitude to them?  The US EPA’s study attests that leaves also filter particles from the air, including dusts, ozone, carbon monoxide and other air pollutants.

The American researchers added one fact that should be known to even Ghanaian Junior High School students. “Through the process of photosynthesis, trees remove carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and release oxygen into our air.”  But the study specifies that, “Trees store the carbon dioxide, called carbon sequestration, and – depending on the size of the tree – can remove between 35 to 800 pounds of carbon dioxide each year,” the researchers concluded.

Basically, the object of this article is to appeal to fellow Ghanaians especially galamsey engineers, rat hunters who set bush fires, charcoal producers, illegal chainsaw operators and all those who take delight in forest destruction to have some mercy on Ghana’s forest cover.

As Dr. Kofi Annan pointed out in his address at the international forest conference cited above,  “We should show more commitment in the fight against activities that destroy the forest else its implications could overwhelm the entire continent.”

 The author works with Information Services Department (ISD) in Accra

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

No Registration No Food = No Registration No Development!

By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath

Have you ever heard this popular but very sad saying that: “ The best way to hide something from Black people is to put it in a book?”

To be brutally frank, the first time I read this statement on the Internet, I exclaimed, ‘HOW!’ I felt it was a racial view and an insult to the black race. However, upon sober reflection, participant observation and critical analysis, I came to the conclusion that there is some iota of truth in the statement.  Why? Reading is not our cup of tea period!

On Saturday, March 5, 2016, I watched CNN late news on Metro TV. Then I saw teaming refugees in a certain country, not in Africa, though. These groups of refugees were referred to as ‘illegal migrants’. They formed long queues and were receiving some miserable food to eat. The CNN lady reporter was telling viewers that the people on her right hand side were those who have registered; adding that they were being given some cold sandwiches and “not hot meals to eat.”  

Then the reporter turned to other long queues on her left side narrating that those migrants were now compelled to re-register because their first registration was found to be “fake” or illegal or so. The reporter added that if they did not register they might not even   get the cold sandwiches to eat at all.  That was the day I felt so sad for humanity.

Respected reader, can you imagine that most of these so-called ‘illegal migrants’ were men and women of substance feeding themselves and their families in their own home countries a while ago?  But man-made tragedy has compelled them to be begging for cold sandwiches in refugee camps in foreign lands. The civilised advanced nations are using their scientific and technological knowledge to manufacture weapons of mass destruction to devastate homes, hospitals, and factories driving millions of innocent women and children into misery in the name of political power or what? And world leaders are ravishing this human catastrophe in silence?

 The object of this article is not only to empathise with suffering fellow human beings who were forced by circumstances to abandon the comfort of their home country but also to point out the significance of registration in the scheme of human endeavour. To the extent that even when people find themselves in very, very critical situations, they are obliged to register in order to survive.

As a student of Development Studies, I have observed that registration is key to development. It seems to me that any country that cannot properly register its citizens or does not know the exact numbers of its population can hardly progress economically. In the midst of abundant natural resources, Ghana is struggling for economic survival   because the country does not know exactly how many mouths the nation has to feed. As a layman in economic matters, what I have just said has no scientific or statistical proof. But I am using my common sense and applying participant observation research method to draw my conclusion.

For the purpose of this article, Participant observation is simply the process that enables researchers to learn about activities of the people under study in the natural setting through observing and participating in those activities. The observations enable the researcher to describe existing situations using the five senses, providing a “written photograph” of the situation under study.

Thus I have observed that from the dawn of civilisation, registration or data collection or provision of basic information about people in a particular geographical location at a given time is critical for development and prosperity. For example, in the bible it was recorded that a Roman King by the name Caesar Augustus was the first to issue a decree that a census must be taken of the entire Roman world. Based on that decree, everyone had to go to his or her hometown to register. That was how Joseph and Mary too, went to Nazareth to Bethlehem to register, where Jesus was eventually born (Luke2: 1-20).

If we use the CNN news item cited above as a case study, we Ghanaians must realise the importance of registration of people in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. It would be recall that the unfortunate incident of June 3 2015 floods and fire disaster that occurred in Accra, National Disaster Management Orgnisation (NADMO) went round to register the affected victims to provide them with the relief items. But some of the people pick quarrels with NADMO officials. This is a national problem that ought to be addressed through public education.

If we want to advance as a nation and prosper as a people, we must take data collection or registration exercises very, very seriously. We must bear in mind that registration is part of individual development from birth to death. That is why when a child is born the child must be registered. In some countries like Singapore and other advanced societies, the first registration number that is allocated to a child when he or she is born that is the number he or she will use for his education, working life until his or her death. Even dead people must be registered before they are allocated graves for burial. Not so? How much more the living?

Ghana as a nation must take national identification policy very seriously. This may minimise if not eliminate the perennial political jabbing over new Voters register each election year. We must inform and educate our rural compatriots that whenever   institutions like the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP) embark on some registration exercises for any social interventions to improve on their socio-economic status, they must register with alacrity and go for it. For “NO REGISTRATION NO FOOD and NO REGISTRATION NO DEVELOPMENT!”

 The author woks with Information Services Department (ISD) in Accra