Monday, December 13, 2010

Climate Change and a limitless earth; we are just ignorant!

The earth has always provided for its people and there is no reason to believe that one day the earth can no longer fulfil its duty. This earth will only cease to function, in my opinion, at the command of God who created everything including the earth, just by commanding them to come to being! Different challenges arise at various times and the earth has always risen to the occasion. The real issue then becomes not the inability of the earth to provide for its inhabitants, but the ignorance of its inhabitants to know where to find what.

Increasing food production to feed a projected over 9 billion people in the face of changing climate is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Success in meeting this challenge will undoubtedly require a steady stream of technical and institutional innovations in adapting to changing climatic conditions. Climate change is being made to look like a monster that has come to kill all of us. But the truth is climate change will not kill all of us; in fact, it cannot! It is just a challenge we must overcome to prove our usefulness to this earth as a people and re-emphasise our desire to live and enjoy the earth.

Man’s love for hearing of disaster and threats of disaster makes it is so easy for us to get carried away by the alarm of negative climatic effects being sounded all over the world; thus preventing the world from seeing the benefits such changes may be presenting to us. Regardless of the extent of negative effects, there may be some positive effects and taking advantage of the least of the positive effects is a sure means of reducing vulnerability and enhancing adaptation to climate change. The ability to carefully identify the risks as well as opportunities that climate change presents and maximise the benefits of the opportunities is major step in reducing our vulnerability to climate change.

There are reports of likely positive climatic changes in the highland tropics and in temperate regions; that changes in temperatures and precipitation forecast by the standard models of climate change will actually benefit agriculture in some parts of the world; climate changes may also provide opportunities for agricultural investment, rewarding early action taken to capitalize on these options; rising atmospheric concentrations of CO2, increasing atmospheric CO2 levels, driven by emissions from human activities, can act as a fertilizer and enhance the growth of some crops such as wheat, rice and soybeans; and some estimates suggest that higher CO2 levels could increase crop productivity substantially, by 50% or more. These are all pointers to show that the earth is limitless and when we look deep enough, we will find where the resources are to cater for its people. Inadequate consideration of adaptation options, including not taking advantage of potential benefits, could result in the vulnerability to climate change being significantly over-stated. The earth is limitless and constantly provides opportunities for its people to survive but mostly such opportunities are either overlooked or only seen in the last minute when many people would have already lost heavily. It is time to make conscious effort to always look out, first, for the opportunities in every seemingly unfortunate development.

It’s time to kill our ignorance of climate change issues and be optimistic. We have heard enough of the negative impacts. It’s time to identify and fully utilise the opportunities climate change presents to us. We can’t lose the opportunities and sit crying over negative impacts. A lost opportunity can be as bad as a negative impact and such lost opportunities add up to swell the negative impacts.

“O come let us reason together …”

Monday, November 8, 2010

Climate Change and Adaptation in Urban Areas

Everywhere I go my mind is filled with climate change: vulnerability and adaptation. I live in the capital of Ghana, Accra, at a suburb called South La Estates. La is also known by many as Labadi. When I first got to my new place about a year ago, I thought that was all Labadi was until Monday when I had to pick a mini-bus (known in Ghana as trotro) to work and I got to know Labadi proper. Whilst the driver meandered through the streets of the “other Labadi” I was seeing, I couldn’t help but think of how differently Climate Change would affect the two Labadis I am seeing: the well-planned South Labadi with clean drains and the slum Labadi I was seeing now.

In places like Labadi and other slums in Accra and other places most of the buildings are sub-standard and obviously not suitable for habitation. Most of these residents are tenants and have no power to develop quality buildings and their landlords are exploiting them. Such residents are usually economic refugees who have moved to the city to seek greener pastures; most of whom inhabit very marginal areas. The influx of people into such marginal and usually flood-prone areas coupled with lack of planning in infrastructure makes them highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change including extreme flooding and storms.

We are all vulnerable to climate change but the effects will be disproportionate depending on how one will be able to adapt. The recent floods that have happened in Accra and other places bring to the fore the unfortunate reality that urban communities are increasingly becoming very vulnerable to the effects of climate change. One may argue that such flooding as witnessed may be due to other factors other than climate change but I believe that climate change is one of the factors. Even if it is not, we are being awakened to the vulnerability of urban populations to floods and storms; which are projected to increase in the face of climate change.

It is time to act locally to save our people and urban communities to adapt to the effects of climate change. The local governments should be resourced well to plan adaptation strategies for urban dwellers, especially those in slums. This is not the time to decide which communities or settlements are legal or illegal. It is time to plan and save. This will need everybody to get on deck: local governments, donor agencies, central government and vulnerable communities. People should be made aware of climate change and its effects and also whip-up their willingness to act.

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Water Quality, My Life Expectancy

It is well acknowledged that water forms a bigger part of man. "The total amount of water in a man of average weight (70 kilograms) is approximately 40 liters, averaging 57% of his total body weight. In baby who has just been born, water may constitute about 75% of the body weight; very high, according to Guyton's Textbook of Medical Physiology. So generally, about 60% of the body weight of any human being is made up water!

Water is really important then, because the water in the body must be constantly replaced. With what do we replace the water in our bodies? With water, of course! It therefore means that the water we drink to keep our bodies functioning properly has to be of really high quality if we really want to have a quality life. In Ghana, many households are without access to clean water and these households are forced to use unhygienic sources of water. Even those who are privileged to be connected to the distribution lines of the Ghana Water Company do not receive any water through their pipes. And when these taps flow, the kind of water that comes out can’t be called quality. Just fetch pipe water in a bucket, allow it to settle and you will be amazed by what you will see settled at the bottom of the water.

Whenever I remember that water makes up about two-thirds of man and I also look at the quality of water I have flowing through my taps for me to use to replace the water that comes out of me through various means, it becomes not so difficult to understand why it is estimated that most Ghanaians will not really live long. Ghana’s life expectancy at birth is around 57 years according to the World Bank (2008) ( With Ghana aiming at achieving 85% coverage for water supply and sanitation by 2015, which would exceed the Millennium Development Goals' target of 78%, I hope our life expectancy at birth will also increase.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Biodiversity: We can only manage what we have

I have done some random searches and realised, unfortunately, that Ghana does not have a proper, up-to-date checklist of important biodiversity in the country! I won’t be very surprised if such is the situation in many countries. Well, this may be a reflection of the importance we place on biodiversity. As a result, when they are disappearing, we don’t seem to notice and even when we have noticed, we look on helpless.

The truth is people can only manage what they know they have. The lack of proper data on a country’s biodiversity hinders the country’s ability to estimate more accurately what species are being lost because there is no baseline to compare with. And the economic impact of such losses also becomes difficult to estimate because we have not placed any value on our biodiversity. Increasingly in the current dispensation, when the impact of something cannot be estimated in monetary terms, many are quick to overlook it.

Managing our environment sustainably should not be a burden on us. There is the need to re-orient ourselves: we should realise that a lot of revenue can be generated by proper management of our biodiversity. We should not be quick to always clear the forest, fill our valleys and block waterways as a must for development. A good natural environment should not be treated as an obstacle to development. The environment should not be seen as a tax on our development, a mortgage on our future or a constraint on employment. If we are to have a better way of knowing how much biodiversity we have and also to monitor the environmental, economic and social impact of biodiversity loss, then there is a great need for investments into data collection to ascertain what biodiversity is available to the country and how to manage them for the perpetual flow of benefits to all sectors of the country.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


On December 15, 1972, by resolution 2994, the United Nations General Assembly instituted World Environment Day (WED) which falls on June 5 every year. The day was established to deepen public awareness of the need to preserve and enhance the environment. Actually, June was chosen because it was the opening day of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 1972), which led to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Since then, June 5 has been observed every year as World Environment Day and Ghana has been part of the celebrations worldwide.

This year 2010, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) chose as the theme “Many Species, One Planet, One Future” for the global celebrations of World Environment Day. This theme brings into attention the importance of biological diversity (biodiversity) in our lives as a people. Biodiversity is a term simply used to describe the existence of a wide variety of plant and animal species in a particular area or during a specific period of time. It is with great excitement that I tried to add my voice to the need to protect our biodiversity in my country, Ghana, because I believed it is a just course. Somehow, no media house published or gave any attention to any of the features I wrote on environment or biodiversity.

Meanwhile, sometimes I write on something away from the environment and it get’s published the following day! That’s how we place premium on over-pollicisation and polarisation of our country over the very things that means much to our survival. I have quietly tracked some of the pieces I wrote on the environment and they never got published! So I try to put in something entertaining and BINGO... two days later a media house published it. We better sit up and make important things important. If we don’t realise what is for our common good, we can’t get anything right.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Climate Change and Non-Wood Forest Products

Talk about the forest and what readily comes to mind is Timber! But timber is not the only benefit the forest gives. But a major player in the forest economics is Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs) or Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs). These are goods of biological origin other than wood, derived from forests, other wooded land and trees outside forests. NWFPs include foods (nuts, fruits, mushrooms, honey, game, gums); food additives (spices, herbs, flavorings, sweeteners); fodder; fibers (furniture, clothing, construction); fragrances for perfumes; ornamental pods and seeds; resins; oils; plant and animal products with medicinal value. Forests also provide many spiritual, aesthetic and recreational benefits. The FAO estimates that 80% of the developing world relies on NWFPs for some purpose in their everyday life and NWFPs also play an important role in the international marketplace with over US$1.1 billion in trade.

As it is, “different things mean different things to different people”. When we talk about the impacts of climate change, we easily tend to think about tsunamis, hurricanes, massive flooding and many more. A relatively less mentioned issue is that of Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs). NWFPs such as fuelwood, charcoal, chewing sticks, are particularly important to the forest-dependent poor in the tropical and subtropical regions where people rely on them for their livelihoods and for meeting domestic energy, food- and health-security needs. To some people, the NWFPs are all they have but they are usually forgotten in the climate change debate. In regions with large forest-dependent populations, such as large parts of Africa, expected decreases in rainfall and increases in the severity and frequency of drought are likely to impose additional stresses on people. A decline in forest ecosystem services reduces the ability of forest-dependent people to meet their basic needs for food, clean water and other necessities and can lead to deepening poverty deteriorating public health and social conflict.

Generally, the impact of climate change on NWFPs is difficult to assess because of the high level of uncertainty about the ecological effects of climate change and because knowledge of the current and projected future demand for these products is incomplete. In Ghana, for example, despite the high dependence of rural livelihoods on NWFPs, there has not been any comprehensive assessment or database on them which will make a case for these NWFPs and inform any interventions to protect them in the face of recent climatic changes. Why will we want to protect them when we have no empirical evidence of their importance? What evidence will back our claims of their importance? But this may not be very difficult in doing because already, there is substantial local/indigenous knowledge on NWFPs and their management and this is critical in the response of forest-dependent people to climate change and can contribute to the development of adaptation strategies.