I don’t know if I’m the only one with this heartache at the impunity with which our environment and its natural resources have been destroyed in recent times.
So I take the opportunity to share some thoughts on global environmental trends, destructive trends in Ghana and offer solutions in this two-part epistle.
For part one, I share insights into the level of impunity within our environmental regulatory space and the pain of seeing the growing environmental degradation all around us now.
Pain refers to the complete absence of attachment, care, commitment, compassion, fervor, patriotism, vigilance, etc. in the exploitation of these resources in the Ghanaian environment, both under formal regulated and informal and unregulated exploitation regimes.
Under formally regulated exploitation regimes, state oversight is expected to ensure that exploitation is under strict control and within the approved operational plan.
I am concerned about how agents/employees of the state abdicate their duty as frontline citizens of the state and fail to act responsibly as agents of the state to protect the State.
Many of them do not even visit the operation sites; do not ensure the flow of financial resources into state coffers; betray the State and conduct themselves in such a way as to deceive the State by signing private certificates of exploitation for the benefit of themselves and their assigns; do not follow established rules and procedures for exploitation and funnel funds that should go into state coffers to their own private accounts and friends.
Some of these unpatriotic officers who were employed to protect the state receive state salaries but work for themselves. Some even go so far as to collude and teach outsiders how to circumvent and cheat the system by exposing loopholes.
Under informal and unregulated regimes, exploitation is uncontrolled. It is the situation where individuals flout the established rules of engagement in the exploitation of the natural resources of the state and plunder the resources that belong to the people of the community and the country with reckless abandon, using all kinds of methods many of which are environmentally detrimental and/or destructive in their operations on natural environments, disregarding environmental concerns or completely unaware of the consequences that accompany their operation.
These activities border on the degradation, pollution and disruption of otherwise perfectly balanced and functioning natural ecosystems that contribute to human well-being.
These actions therefore disrupt the availability of goods and services that promote good health, good drinking water, conviviality, food and nutritional security, cultural and family cohesion and above all economic well-being and poverty reduction.
This is the category that includes galamsey operators, chainsaw operators, sand and stone extraction contractors. Fishermen who use unapproved fishing gear and other methods such as ‘akadja’, dynamite and other chemicals, fall into this category.
They exploit nature, supposedly to enrich themselves, but end up creating ecological disasters. This is another area of concern for me.
Our beautiful country is under siege. We are witnessing an unprecedented environmental disaster that keeps increasing day by day and we are just watching and doing very little to counter it. We watch because we think it’s someone else’s business or duty to address and correct or preferably get it “right”. This attitude will destroy our country if it persists.
We are clearly in a crisis situation now and there needs to be urgent action to deal with it immediately before it takes root completely and becomes the way of doing things in Ghana.
I feel something has to change. Our vision of our environment must be directed correctly. It is like reviewing our resource exploitation procedures to relate them to the current understanding of global changes.
In writing this article, I try to peek into the future to imagine how the generation after us will fare when faced with the environmental mess and indiscipline we leave behind.
This does not bode well for us as a nation. It would be selfish of us to assume our innocence and not acknowledge that it was our generation that created this mess and therefore it is our responsibility to clean up.
Author, Alfred Oteng-Yeboah is a retired professor in the Department of Plant and Environmental Biology, University of Ghana, LEGON. For comments, phone: 0244772256