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Increased deterioration of the quality of the natural environment has become one of the most noticeable side effects of Ghana’s consistent economic growth over the past two decades. This has far-ranging impacts on human health, biodiversity, and even future growth prospects. It is no surprise therefore that government, communities, and civic actors are finally giving environmental sustainability more attention. The issues can be grouped based on geography: deforestation and ‘galamsey’ (illegal small-scale mining) pervasive at the country-side, as against solid waste and sewerage mismanagement in urban areas.

Some of the specific challenges capturing public attention include:

  • Indiscriminate felling of trees. This may result in reduced agricultural productivity as reported recently by communities from the Wa East district. The chiefs and people of the area recently raised the issue at a public forum attended by local government officials.
  • Extreme air, water, and land degradation of Atewa Forest, one of Ghana’s most resourceful ecosystems, through unchecked illegal mining, logging, and hunting. A new documentary by AROCHA, titled “Atewa Forest: Living Water from the Mountains”, shows how over-exploitation will affect water quality in major towns including Accra, reports Ghana News Agency.
  • Persistent environmental pollution due to accumulation of solid and liquid waste in parts of Accra such as Agbogloshie and Lavender Hill, resulting in poor health outcomes.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates degradation costs Ghana 10 percent of her GDP annually. Land degradation alone was thought to have led to a loss of $166 million in 2011.

There are a number of ongoing interventions to address some of the problems.

A joint military-police raid resulted in the arrest and seizure of equipment of 37 galamsey operators. Also, EPA is pushing for increased private sector participation in biodiversity and conservation efforts. Currently Slamson Ghana, a local social enterprise, converts waste from Lavender Hill into compost (for farming) and organic charcoal (for cooking). To influence public attitudes and behaviours, GhScientific and the Ghana Science Association (GSA) launched the SHAPE initiative, a novel public science engagement programme funded by the Wellcome Trust. Basic school pupils are analyzing and designing solutions to environmental health challenges in Accra, with support from professional mentors and university students. Traditional chiefs are also lending their voices to conservation. Recently, the paramount chief of the Builsa Traditional Area, Nab Azagsuk Azantillow, tasked his people “for every baby born, plant a tree”, among other measures, in an effort to protect local vegetative cover.

Overall, the multi-tiered approaches being pursued are positive for Ghana. However, government needs to enforce the many policies and regulations crafted over the years to ensure proper conduct by all stakeholders. Secondly, the social entrepreneurial approach is appropriate as it will motivate “entrepreneurs of the heart” to leverage commercial opportunities, while solving pressing public problems. Finally, social and behaviour change communication may change the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and practices of Ghanaians with regards to environmental conservation. However, it is instructive that all efforts and actors are well coordinated to derive maximum impact.

Gameli Adzaho (@gamelmag) works at the intersection of public health, education, and digital technology. Trained at the University of Ghana (BSc Biochemistry) and University of Exeter (MSc Environment and Human Health), he leads social innovation projects, focusing on “shaping Africa by shaping African youth”. Some of these STEM/civic initiatives are Woekpor (Global Shapers Ho Hub), Lab_13 Ghana, BarCamp Ghana (GhanaThink Foundation), and Ghana Decides (BloggingGhana). Recently, he co-developed SHAPE, a public science engagement programme aimed at equipping Junior High School pupils in Accra to analyse and design solutions to local environmental health challenges. Gameli is an alumnus of Diplo Foundation and a 2013/2014 recipient of the Tullow Group Scholarship. He looks forward to actively participate in the Next Einstein Forum, having previously joined notable STEM events including Digitally Connected, European Science Open Forum, TechCamp West Africa, Science BarCamp Ghana and Accra Science Hack Day.