Tuesday, December 11, 2012


1.Multiple temperature records from all over the world have all shown a warming trend, and these records have been deemed reliable by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among others (EPA, 2011). Other observations that point to higher global temperature includes: warmer oceans, melting arctic sea ice and glaciers, sea level rise, increasing precipitation, and changing wind patterns (EPA, 2010)

2.There were times in the distant past when Earth was warmer than it is now. However, human societies have developed and thrived during the relatively stable climate that has existed since the last ice age. Due to excess carbon dioxide pollution, the climate is no longer stable and is instead projected to change faster than at any other time in human history. This rapid climate change will expose people to serious risks. Sea level rise, increasing droughts and wildfires in some regions and increasing flooding in others, more heat waves, and other effects of climate change all pose risks to human health, infrastructure critical to our homes, roads, and cities, and the ecosystems that support us (USGCRP (2009).

3.Plants, oceans, and soils release and absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide as a part of the Earth's natural carbon cycle. These natural emissions and absorptions of carbon dioxide on average balance out over time. However, the carbon dioxide from human activities is not part of this natural balance. Ice core measurements reveal that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher than they have been for at least 800,000 years (USGCRP, 2009). The global warming that has been observed in recent decades was caused by elevated levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due primarily to human activities (NRC, 2011)

4.A few extra cold or snowy winters in your hometown doesn't mean that global warming isn't happening. We know that global average temperatures are rising. However, even with this global warming, at the local or regional level, we can expect to have some colder-than-average seasons or even colder-than-average years. For example, in the Eastern United States, the winters of 2010 and 2011 were colder than the average winters from the previous decades. In fact, extra snowy winters can be expected. In a warmer climate, more water vapor is held in the atmosphere causing more intense rain and snow storms. As the climate warms, we do expect the duration of the snow season to decrease — however, as long as it is still cold enough to snow, a warming climate can lead to bigger snowstorms (USGCRP (2009).

5.Changing the average global temperature by even a degree or two can lead to serious consequences around the globe. For about every 2°F of warming, we can expect to see
5—15% reductions in the yields of crops as currently grown
3—10% increases in the amount of rain falling during the heaviest precipitation events, which can increase flooding risks
5—10% decreases in stream flow in some river basins,
200%—400% increases in the area burned by wildfire (NRC, 2011).
Global average temperatures have increased more than 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 100 years (NRC, 2010). Many of the extreme precipitation and heat events that we have seen in recent years are consistent with what we would expect given this amount of warming (USGCRP (2009). Scientists project that Earth's average temperatures will rise between 2 and 12 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 (NRC, 2011)

1.NRC (2011). America's Climate Choices: Final Report . National Research Council. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, USA.
2.NRC (2010). Advancing the Science of Climate Change . National Research Council. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, USA.
3.NOAA (2011). 2010 Tied For Warmest Year on Record . National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Accessed 3/16/2012.
4.EPA (2010). Climate Change Indicators in the United States . U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA.
5.USGCRP (2009). Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States . Thomas R. Karl, Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson (eds.). United States Global Change Research Program. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, USA.
6.NRC (2011). Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia . National Research Council. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC, USA.
7.IPCC (2007). Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report .Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Pachauri, R.K. and A. Reisinger (eds.)]. Geneva, Switzerland.
8.EPA (2011). Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act, EPA Response to Public Comments. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed 3/16/2012.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Climate change impacts continue to draw thousands of households below the poverty line, especially areas where rain-fed agriculture is the mainstay of households because their livelihood is heavily affected by reduced and erratic rainfall.

The three regions in the north of Ghana (Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions) have persistently been among the poorest in the country. While other regions such as the Central Region and parts of other regions are also poor, the north comprises the poorest large geographical area. Generally, most parts of Ghana have two rainy seasons; major season from April to July and minor season from September to November . But in the north of Ghana, there is only one rainy season which begins somewhere in late April and lasts until about late August or sometimes September. Annual rainfall in the north is about 1000 mm on the average. As in many African countries, poverty is concentrated among farmers and the major livelihood of the people in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions are farmers, rain-fed farmers.

Last year, when I had the opportunity to be part of a team that undertook a study in four districts in Ghana’s northern savannah zone, I came close once again to the reality of how climate change is impacting livelihoods. There, I encountered young men who narrated how they are so pushed to their limits in trying to stay in their communities and work; mainly farming. They revealed to me what used to be a previous cycle of young men moving southwards to find work during the long dry seasons in the north, by which time the rainy season would have started in the south, and returning to make their own farms when the rainy season in the north begins. But now, they say, this cycle has changed. Young men now make a one-off trip to find work and stay in the south. This is the result of reduced and erratic rainfall and prolonged dry periods in the northern savannah which makes the annual return trip to their own farms less profitable compared with staying down south to work and remit families back home.

Households with a son or two living and working in the south in places like Kumasi (the second biggest city) and Accra (Ghana’s capital) have a better coping capacity to the impacts of climate change because they receive remittances from relations in Accra or Kumasi. This has then become a great force attracting young men and women to also migrate. Parents who are old and fragile are advising their children, and even sometimes push them, to migrate to the city to find work and remit them. Such is the gravity of the situation that young men who are not yet migrating and struggling to still make a living from their farms are helpless and feel the pressure everyday to migrate. They cannot stay and see their families starve and wallow in poverty.

I am aware of many interventions aimed at addressing the north-south migration in Ghana. But I am convinced and would like to draw our attention to the fact that any of such programmes to address north-south migration in Ghana that does not include adaptation to extreme climate variability is likely to be unsustainable.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Climate Change and Cholera?

“Thirty years ago, we were ridiculed to even say that the bacterium existed in the environment. But now it is in textbooks. The evidence is so overwhelming, it is understood.” Rita Colwell - University of Maryland cholera expert, and former director of the National Science Foundation

Cholera was originally thought to be a disease purely associated with poor sanitation but recent revolutionary understanding suggest that beyond poor sanitation, other factors such as the environment, hydrology, and weather patterns also come into play (Shah, 2011; Fernándeza et al., 2009)

There is scientific evidence showing a direct influence of inter-annual and inter-decadal climate variability on the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases (WHO, 2000). Climate change has been shown to enhance the spread of infectious diseases two key mechanisms, according to (Epstein, 2011):

1)Global warming expands the geographic conditions conducive to transmission of vector-borne diseases, and
2)Extreme events result in the proliferation of mosquito, water and rodent-borne diseases

A study carried out in Lusaka (Zambia) between 2003 and 2006 analyzed data from three cholera epidemics which occurred in a consecutive fashion. The researchers from the Madrid Carlos III Institute of Health who conducted the study concluded that climatic variables (rain and environmental temperature) are related to the increase in cholera cases during the epidemic period. The results showed that increase in environmental temperature six weeks before the rain season increases the number of people affected by this sickness by 4.9%.

In a study of Vibrio cholera, the bacteria that causes cholera, in the environment, the bacteria was found in water bodies untouched by human waste, its abundance and distribution fluctuating not with levels of contamination, but with sea surface temperature, ocean currents, and weather changes. A 2003 WHO study warned that predicted warming of African lakes, such as Lake Tanganyika, may increase the risk of cholera transmission among local people, and that countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Somalia, Peru, Nicaragua, and Honduras — which suffered major cholera outbreaks after heavy rains in 1997 — may face more cholera epidemics as the climate changes (Shah 2011).

It seems the evidence is becoming so overwhelming. According to Shah (2011) “In Mexico, the abundance of cholera vibrios in lagoon oysters rise as seas warm. In the Chesapeake Bay, Vibrio cholerae levels increase during the summer, as water temperatures spike. In Bangladesh, cholera risk increases by two to four times in the six weeks following a 5-degree C (9-degree F) spike in the water temperature. Likewise, in Ghana, an analysis of 20 years of data revealed a correlation between cholera incidence and rainfall and land surface temperatures. In Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania, cholera epidemics have been correlated with flooding as well as sea surface temperatures”

As the impacts of climate change on diseases become increasingly prominent, the need to put in place structures and mechanisms to ensure health care systems are well positioned to respond effectively cannot be over-emphasised. How can the health care system, especially in developing countries, respond appropriately to climate change related health risks?

"This is the first time that it has become evident in the sub-Saharan region that the increase in environmental temperature is related to the increase in cholera cases," - Miguel Ángel Luque, Madrid Carlos III Institute of Health

Epstein, P., 2011. Health and Climate Change: 7 Ways You Are Being Harmed in The Atlantic, Sept. 23, 2011 Edition.

Fernándeza, M.A.L., Bauernfeindb, A., Jiménezc, J.D., Gila,C.L., El Omeiria, N., Dionisio Herrera Guiberte, D.H., 2009. Influence of temperature and rainfall on the evolution of cholera epidemics in Lusaka, Zambia, 2003–2006: analysis of a time series. Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Volume 103, Issue 2. Pages 137–143

Government of Ghana, 2007. National Health Policy: Creating wealth through health. Ministry of Health. Accra, Ghana.

Shah, S., 2011. Climate’s Strong Fingerprint in Global Cholera Outbreaks. Environment360.

World Health Organization Bulletin, 2000. Climate change and vector-borne diseases: a regional analysis. [Accessed: June 19, 2012]

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


“Homo sapiens has emerged as a force of nature rivaling climatic and geologic forces,” Erle Ellis

"Geo-engineering" as a solution to climate change is increasingly gaining attention within the science world. "Isn’t it just one of those things that come up and everyone seems excited about only to learn later that it can’t really help after all?”, I asked myself the first time I read about geoengineering. So what is this technology that is gradually becoming the main word in climate change talks?

The concept of GEOENGINEERING refers to "the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system, in order to moderate global warming". The definition of geoengeneering in itself seemed ironic to me, upon first hearing. How can anyone possibly make any meaningful interventions in the climate system which is so complex that I am yet to come across someone who can claim to fully understand it! Then the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2007 that geoengineering options remained largely unproven. Such is the controversy surrounding geongeneering.

But why should anyone not be happy with what appears to have solution to arguable the greatest challenge the world faces: CLIMATE CHANGE. The world has been grappling with this challenge for a while now. Climate change MITIGATION, activities that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or enhance the capacity of carbon sinks to absorb GHGs from the atmosphere, has been proposed several years ago and we are still grappling with it. Climate Change ADAPTATION, i.e., reducing the negative impacts of climate change and take advantage of any opportunities is also being tried and its successes are there for all to see. It has been extremely difficult and sometimes even thought of as impossible to build the international political consensus on how and to what levels to reduce GHG emissions. Talk of adaptation is equally discouraging. So, with all these challenges with mitigation and adaptation, are we now closer to what will save the world?

Geoengeneering is divided into two broad categories:
1.Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques which address the root cause of climate change by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere; and
2. Solar radiation management (SRM) techniques which attempt to offset effects of increased greenhouse gas concentrations by causing the Earth to absorb less solar radiation.

CDR techniques will reduce the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, allowing outgoing long-wave (thermal infra-red) heat radiation to escape more easily. SRM techniques will reduce the net incoming short-wave (ultra-violet and visible) solar radiation received, by deflecting sunlight, or by increasing the reflectivity (albedo) of the atmosphere, clouds or the Earth’s surface. These are surely what the world needs to address climate change, don’t you think so? At last, we are going to win the battle with climate change! Well, don’t be too fast to conclude, does geoengineering not have any negatives?

Some of the few studies into geoengineering has revealed that despite all the positives, including counteracting many effects of climate change, that are touted about Geoengineering, there could be unintended negative repercussions as well. The climate system is inherently too complex and the possibility of unanticipated harmful side effects must be expected. In their book “GEOENGINEERING FOR DECISION MAKERS” the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, lists the ten (10) major concerns of Geoengineering as:
1.Unintended Negative Consequences
2.Potential Ineffectiveness
3.Risk of Undermining Emissions-Mitigation Efforts
4.Risk of Sudden Catastrophic Warming
5.Equity Issues
6.Difficulty of Reaching Agreement
7.Potential for Weaponization
8.Reduced Efficiency of Solar Energy
9.Danger of Corporate Interests Overriding the Public Interest
10.Danger of Research Driving Inappropriate Deployment

These concerns, some of which have been addressed partially by some studies, are important and need addressing before any large-scale deployment of geoengineering technologies is undertaken.

So is geoengenieering to the rescue? It’s time for us to think, work and engage. Maybe YES, maybe NO. What do you think?

"Before we start geoengineering we have to raise the following question: are we sufficiently talented to take on what might become the onerous permanent task of keeping the Earth in homeostasis? Consider what might happen if we start by using a stratospheric aerosol to ameliorate global heating; even if it succeeds, it would not be long before we face the additional problem of ocean acidification. -- James Lovelock

Friday, August 3, 2012


The contribution of agriculture to GDP in Africa varies across countries but assessments suggest an average contribution of 21% (ranging from 10 to 70%) of GDP (Mendelsohn et al., 2000).

The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines vulnerability as “the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.

In Africa, the agricultural sector contributes about 30% of the continent’s GDP and provides a source of livelihood for almost 70% of Africans (Climate Change and Agriculture in Africa). The agricultural sector has its own problems such as rapid urbanization pushing more fertile arable land out of production, competition with subsidized farmers in Western countries, low productivity of lands, use of obsolete equipment and many more. Compounding the problems of the African farmer is impacts of climate change; increased variability in rains, higher overall temperatures, and storm events that are more frequent and/or more intense. Due to the major role that agriculture plays in the economies of African countries, any slight negative impact on agriculture has significant effects on the people.

Projections of climate change impacts on Agriculture in Africa
Agriculture in Africa is climate-dependent, generally rainfed, and this makes the continent highly vulnerable to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), projects:
•that 75-250 million people in Africa will face severe water stress by 2020 and 350-600 million people by 2050 due to climate change
•that Agricultural production in Africa will be severely compromised due to loss of land, shorter growing seasons, and more uncertainty about what and when to plant due to climate change
•a possible 50% reduction in yields from rain-fed crops by 2020 in some North African countries, and crop net revenues likely to fall by as much as 90% by 2100 in South Africa.

So, Africa is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the impacts of climate change on African agriculture cannot be overemphasized. As climate change progresses at a faster rate, the vulnerability of Africa’s agriculture worsens.

The Approach for Vulnerability Assessment
Generally, Vulnerability of a system is a function of Exposure, Sensitivity and Adaptive Capacity, i.e.,
Vulnerability = f (Exposure, Sensitivity, Adaptive Capacity)

A vulnerability assessment must, therefore, answer these questions:
Who (or what) is vulnerable …………………………………… System
To what are they vulnerable …………………………………… Exposure
Why are they vulnerable …………………………………………… Sensitivity
What can be done to lessen this vulnerability …………… Adaptive capacity

It is so tempting, and usually the easy way out, to assess the vulnerability of Agriculture at the continental level but the impacts of climate change vary significantly due to the diversity of environments across Africa. So a general vulnerability assessment would usually leave out some hotspots due to the averaging of conditions which takes place at the continent-wide level vulnerability assessment. So as much as possible, it is advisable to lower the scale at which vulnerability assessments are done in order not to leave out specific situations that need addressing.

Importance of assessing Africa’s Agricultural vulnerability to decision makers
Assessing vulnerability is not only important for responding to future climate risks and also the process of assessment also brings out key answers needed to improve the management of current climate risks. A good vulnerability assessment will contribute to setting development priorities and monitoring progress.

First and foremost, for an effective Vulnerability Assessment, one needs to understand who and what is at risk. Understanding who and what is at risk is critical in deciding strategies and measures that may be taken to reduce risk or increase capacity to adapt. An appropriate vulnerability assessment method is very important because each the method or approach one chooses may end up giving a whole different view of the vulnerability of a particular system. Also important to bear in mind is that no method for vulnerability assessment can meet the needs of all adaptation activities. Depending on the system being assessed, a suitable method must be selected because each route one takes has got advantages and disadvantages.

“Africa is an ancient continent. Its lands are rich and fertile enough to provide a solid foundation for prosperity. Its people are proud and industrious enough to seize the opportunities that may be presented. I am confident that Africans will not be found wanting — in stamina, in determination, or in political will.” (Kofi Annan, 1998 address to the Security Council on the Secretary General’s Report on Africa)

Climate Change and Agriculture in Africa). Retrieved: 3 August 2012.

Mendelsohn, R., A. Dinar and A. Dalfelt, 2000: Climate change impacts on African agriculture. Preliminary analysis prepared for the World Bank, Washington, District of Columbia, 25 pp.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Untapped Helper in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in Ghana – Waste Management (2)

"Waste equals food."— William McDonough

The introductory quote appears simple, however embedded in this statement by William McDonough is a wealth of knowledge and deep understanding. We work hard as humans to put food on our tables. We enjoy our meals and gain vital nutrients to live on. We then convert the unused parts and excess to ‘waste’. The waste if properly managed can provide more food in terms of providing work for persons who manage the waste to produce energy (for the use of society as a whole) or income which will in turn be used to purchase food. The cycle can be beneficial if waste is exploited adequately. There is an even more exciting twist to this – the waste can be managed to ameliorate the likely impact of climate change.

Waste management is a broad subject and a specialized area that requires expert advice. So this piece is by no means meant to be exhaustive but it does raise awareness that waste can be put to good use and should not be left to engulf our beautiful nation and create problems such as ground and surface water pollution, flooding, air pollution and the introduction of disease causing agents that affect the human health of a country’s populace. These impacts have tremendous socio - cultural, economic and environmental implications.

I grew up hearing that cleanliness is next to Godliness and Ghana is one religious country! If we practiced what we preached as the singer Barry White (May his soul rest in peace) asked his loved one to do in his song titled Practice What You Preach, our nation would have been one clean country. It is pathetic to see people sweep and clean their rooms only to dump the rubbish in drains with the hope that the rains will carry it away; oh or that Zoomlion will come and continue. Well, for those of us who do that I am sorry to say that Zoomlion is not a non – profit organization and resides not in our mosquito infested communities in person.

With Ghana’s increasing population and the rising trend in consumerism more waste will be generated inevitably. Mechanisms of using the waste generated for profit is therefore paramount. There are different forms of waste – electronic waste, municipal solid waste, industrial waste, residential waste, commercial waste, biodegradable waste etc and each type will require a special approach in management.
Ghana should move away from looking for dumping sites and landfills (which lumps up everything and deposits it at one place till the site can take no more) and begin to build waste management plants. It would save the authorities involved ,the headache of where to go next when a dump site is full and they would not have to worry about NIMBY (not in my backyard).

Most interestingly, waste management could play a critical role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. What is the big issue and the role of Waste in Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation?

Climate change is generally defined as a change in the statistical properties of the climate system when considered over long periods of time, regardless of cause. In recent times however, the term has been used to refer more specifically to climate change caused by human activity, as opposed to changes in climate that may have resulted as part of Earth's natural processes. To put the potential role of waste into perspective, permit me to delve into the terms global warming, greenhouse effect and define what exactly a greenhouse gas is.

Global warming is the rise in the average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans since the late 19th century, and its projected continuation. The process may not have been a problem if there was no evidence that the process is being altered by anthropogenic factors such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels. These and other human activities are increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and trapping the gases in the atmosphere. So what are greenhouse gases and their effects?

Greenhouse gases (GHG) are gases in an atmosphere that absorb and emit radiation within the thermal infrared range. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. The greenhouse gases absorb thermal radiation from planetary surfaces and re-radiate in all directions. Why is this bad? This process means that when there is an increase in greenhouse gases, more thermal radiation is absorbed for re-radiation increasing the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere and oceans and hastens the process of climate change.

Where does waste management come in?
Well, this is where and how; during decomposition of biodegradable waste, green house gases are emitted. When oxygen is available the main landfill gas produced is carbon dioxide, but in anaerobic conditions around half the emissions are methane. Methane is known to be the second of the ‘basket’ of greenhouse gases and is much more potent than carbon dioxide per unit. Biodegradable waste needs therefore to be better managed. This is where the opportunity comes in. Ghana produces a lot of bio - degradable waste. Burning our waste as is done in most part of the country will not help as it also increases the emission of GHG’s. Waste prevention and recycling (including composting) divert organic wastes from landfills and reduces the amount of methane released when decomposition takes place.

What can be done?
It will be prudent to develop or to learn from engineering examples that have worked to imposes strict engineering requirements on landfill sites to capture these gases. Waste can be turned into wealth by increasing recycling, composting and recovery of energy from waste.

•Ghana should develop policies and strategies for sustainable waste management.
The waste policies should focus on sustainable resource management, including the need to reduce the quantity of waste produced and to move from waste disposal to waste processing.

•Re-cycling, composting and waste separation should be given due attention and consideration.
Recycling saves energy. Manufacturing goods from recycled materials typically requires less energy than producing goods from virgin materials.

Waste prevention is more effective.
When people reuse things or when products are made with less material, less energy is needed to extract, transport, and process raw materials and to manufacture products. The payoff? When energy demand decreases, fewer fossil fuels are burned and less carbon dioxide is emitted to the atmosphere.

The one most important factor that will determine the success of this quest is the need for people to change. Behavioral change and a shift in the paradigm of Ghanaians is important because it is only when we realize that it is in our own interest to properly manage waste that we will take the needed measures to curb this menace. Education and sensitization should be intensified to get all stakeholders involved in this quest.

We may not receive financial rewards for this mitigation program as we do for other mechanisms such as in carbon trading for example; but as a country you and I would have contributed our quota to reducing the release of greenhouse gases to make the future change in climate less severe. You and I would have helped in adapting to the change and we would have earned the right to be called our own captain planets!

A. Prempeh

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Untapped Helper in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in Ghana – Waste Management (1)

"The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard."— Gaylord Nelson

Climate change will impact future spatial patterns, growth and development worldwide. To reduce Ghana’s vulnerability and increase our adaptive capacity as a country, Ghana has taken various steps such as preparing the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (NCCAS). It was developed on the basis that unless mechanisms are put in place to ensure resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change, national development will be hampered. The country is also addressing the socio-economic challenges climate change may present as it threatens secure livelihoods and social and economic development in Ghana.

As a tropical country with considerable forest reserves, it has been recognized that significant contribution that will improve policies and actions to reduce deforestation and degradation can play within both mitigation and adaptation. The Government of Ghana through the Forestry Commission (FC) is working to engage with both national and international actors in preparing Ghana’s national strategy for REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and REDD+.

These steps are laudable! However, a ‘sleeping giant’ whose power if properly harnessed can bring untold benefits has been left to sleep. This sleeping ‘giant’ is WASTE and its management or is it mismanagement in Ghana.

As Economist, E.W. Zimmerman said in the 1930’s, “Resources are not, they become”. His assertion was that resources are not fixed things; instead their meaning and value come to light only as we appraise their worth and develop the technical and scientific knowledge to transform them into useful commodities. The importance of resources depends therefore upon "cultural appraisals," and the value of their distribution and use changes.
Waste is wealth!

If properly valued and appropriate mechanisms are devised to manage it, Ghana can reap bountifully from the waste which as of now threatens to engulf the nation. Not only will the health of the populace improve and Ghana look better; we could be our own Captain Planets! We could save our world and help reduce the likely impacts of climate change on generations yet unborn.

"Trash is cash"

To be continued….

The author, Afua S. Prempeh, is an environmentalist and writer. She studied Natural Resources Management at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and went on to pursue a post graduate degree in Environmental Policy and Management at the University of Gloucestershire, UK. She currently works at the Environmental Protection Agency, Ghana.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


"Upon the whole I am inclined to think that the far greater part, if not all of those difficulties, which have hitherto amused philosophers, and blocked up the way to knowledge, are entirely owing to our selves. That we have raised a dust, and then complain that we cannot see" -- George Berkeley

After the December 2004 tsunami off the coast of Indonesia, calls multiplied for high-technology solutions (installation of early warning systems using cutting-edge satellite and ocean buoy technologies) to prevent similar disastrous occurrences. Then news began to circulate about how indigenous communities had escaped the tsunami’s wrath by using their traditional knowledge. This drew attention to the importance of traditional knowledge to natural disaster preparedness and response. Unfortunately, this knowledge system is still not being utilized very much in adapting to climate change.

Traditional knowledge (TK), indigenous knowledge (IK), traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) and local knowledge generally refer to the long-standing traditions and practices of certain regional, indigenous, or local communities. It is "a cumulative body of knowledge, know-how, practices and representations maintained and developed by peoples with extended histories of interaction with the natural environment. Indigenous people that live close to natural resources often observe the activities around them and are the first to identify and adapt to any changes. The appearance of certain birds, mating of certain animals and flowering of certain plants are all important signals of changes in time and seasons that are well understood in traditional knowledge systems. Why are we not tapping this useful knowledge?

Whilst encouraging efforts at ensuring efficient and effective early warning systems, in data and resource poor areas with low technology and infrastructure for early warning systems, the role of traditional knowledge in building the adaptive capacity of vulnerable groups is crucial. Societies are governed by norms, values and belief which, to a large extent, determine the kind of adjustments made in natural and or human systems in response to actual or expected climate stimuli. Various studies (check reveal that in the absence of modern scientific knowledge, traditional communities, with their substantial understanding of what goes on in their environment, have always made adjustments to ensure sustenance of their livelihoods using local indicators for predicting weather such as flowering of plants, animal sounds and movement, birds and insects.

A recent study I was involved in in Ghana showed that indigenous knowledge plays significant role in coping/adaptation strategies of the local people. Despite a wider awareness of scientific weather forecasts by the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet), most farmers did not plan their activities based on the weather forecast; the major reason being that they found the GMet forecasts to be less reliable and also too general, rather than being tailored to their specific communities. Rather, they relied on their own knowledge for predicting the weather. This underscores the usefulness of traditional knowledge in weather prediction and preparation for any unfavourable condition.

I must admit that some of the indigenous knowledge seems weird on first hearing but it works for the people! Trying to understand the science behind some of the indigenous knowledge will be a great step towards unraveling some of the mysteries surrounding them. I suggest that to build the adaptive capacity of such rural indigenous vulnerable communities to climate change will need long term studies to validate the traditional knowledge and incorporate them into scientific knowledge systems for effective adaptation strategies. The traditional knowledge systems are widely accepted by the people and it offers readily available and significant opportunities for integration into climate change adaptation programmes. Could the weather forecasts from the Ghana Meteorological Agency which some indigenous rural farmers consider too general and as such unreliable be downscaled using the validated indigenous knowledge? This is surely a step in the right direction.

"To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge" -- Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Goodnews on Groundwater in Africa: what next?

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step". -- Lao Tzu

In many places in Africa, water remains a scarce commodity. Many households travel long distances in search of water. Water availability and accessibility continues to create tension between communities and countries. When it is said that water is life and you do not understand it, come to Africa and you will come to appreciate that statement very much. On a continent that has about 60 percent of the total labor force, engaged in agricultural labor, the importance of water cannot be over-emphasised. Many communities are still struggling to get access to drinking water.

The UN suggests that each person needs 20-50 litres of safe freshwater a day to ensure their basic needs for drinking, cooking and cleaning; in most parts of Africa, this is a luxury. The population of Africans without access to improved drinking water sources increased by 61 million, from 280 million in 1990 to 341 million in 2006. Whereas the population is increasing, increases in coverage are not keeping pace with population growth. It is already established that Africa is not on track to meet the MDG drinking water target and even when the MDG drinking water target is met, 253 million Africans will still be without access to an improved drinking water source.

Agriculture in most parts of Africa is rainfall dependent; only 3 percent of land in sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated, compared to more than 20 percent globally. Already some 218 million people in Africa, around 30 percent of the total population, are estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition. In most African countries, agriculture supports the survival and well-being of up to 70 percent of the population. So it becomes very scary when projections of climate change seem to suggest that the continent is likely to suffer from reduced rainfall; something likely to worsen the water situation of the continent.

The above information on the importance of water in the daily life of many people in Africa made me shout for joy upon learning of a positive study on groundwater resources in Africa, “Quantitative maps of groundwater resources in Africa” by MacDonald and others. In Africa, groundwater is very important to us. It is the major source of drinking water and its use for irrigation is forecast to increase substantially to combat growing food insecurity. Here are a few of the highlights of the report that made me happy:

1. Africa has huge reserves of water underground and it is estimated that total groundwater storage of 0.66 million km3 (0.36–1.75 million km3) in Africa

2. The groundwater reserve is estimated to be more than a hundred times the annual renewable freshwater resources

So, isn’t there good news? There is good news! It is also known that groundwater possesses a high resilience to climate change in Africa and should be central to adaptation strategies.

Whichever way I look at it, I think it is good news! But the issues do not end there? I asked myself the question is accessibility. How can we tap into this resource to meet our adaptation needs? The researchers found that "for many African countries appropriately sited and constructed boreholes will be able to sustain community handpumps and for most of the populated areas of Africa, groundwater levels are likely to be sufficiently shallow to be accessed using a handpump".

BUT, I won’t end without this advice: “we should not just start sinking boreholes everywhere to tap the water, like how many interventions on our continent have been handled haphazardly”. The researchers emphasise the importance of taking into consideration the rate at which this stored water can be replenished. For instance, in the arid region of North Africa where the largest groundwater reserves lie, the reserves, about seventy five meters, deep, were filled five thousand years ago when the region was much wetter. Whatever is taken out is not replenished so we need to plan well.

Whichever way I look at it, I think it is good news! The study by McDonald and others does not deal with the issues of salinization or contamination, but generally the stored water is purer than surface water, according to one of the report's authors, Helen Bonsor of the British Geological Survey.

So the report is out! Let the debate begin! Where do we go from here? Surely, there is the need for more local research in moving forward.

“What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step”. -- C. S. Lewis

Friday, March 30, 2012

Rio+20: The Future We Want

"Someone asked me once if I could see angels and faeries. I told her, 'look to the sensitive, loving, caring ones who bring so much to our world and take on the sufferings of others. They're the earth angels, sent to earth to help us on our life journey ... This world needs all the earth-angels it can get” -- author unknown

Twenty years ago, 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio Summit, Rio Conference, Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 June to 14 June 1992. At this conference, very critical issues concerning our planet earth was discussed. These included:

1. the production of toxic components, such as lead in gasoline, or poisonous waste including radioactive chemicals

2.alternative sources of energy to replace the use of fossil fuels which are linked to global climate change

3. new reliance on public transportation systems in order to reduce vehicle emissions, congestion in cities and the health problems caused by polluted air and smog

4. the growing scarcity of water

Very extremely important decisions were made for a sustainable earth. At this Earth Summit the world got the
•Rio Declaration on Environment and Development
•Agenda 21
•Forest Principles
•Convention on Biological Diversity
•Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

But after 20 years, how far have we moved in achieving sustainable development? What have been our successes in cleaning up our environment?

Once again, the world meets 20 years after the RIO conference to think about our future. But I keep asking myself: “IS IT WORTH IT?” Is it worth our time when some countries continue to position themselves in a manner that prevents any concrete actions from being taken? There are already attempts by certain countries to determine what the outcome of the conference will be. We are witnessing attempts “to weaken, ‘bracket’ or outright eliminate nearly all references to human rights obligations and equity principles in the text, "The Future We Want", for the outcome of Rio+20”.

What happened to the ‘Polluter Pays Principle’, ‘Precautionary Principle’, ‘Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR)’, etc. How did all these laudable ideas fail? Why can’t governments commit to actually do what they claim to support in principle? The same attitudes that were put up after Rio which has brought us to this stage where right to food and proper nutrition is not respected, and right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is eluding us is coming up. What future are we looking for? Are we really looking for a future where all humans will have equal right to a clean and healthy environment, which is essential to the realization of fundamental human rights?

In my opinion, the relevance of the United Nations is at stake. If we want to create a sense of belonging, then we should act it and not just pay lip service. I should live because you are living. My actions should not prevent someone from getting his livelihoods going. When we make decisions, let’s make them in sincerity and respect for one another. Let’s make good decisions and work on them to achieve a good future. What future do we want? It’s all in our hands.

“The future depends on what you do today.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Climate Change awareness: facts or scaremongering?

“Alarmism is excessive or exaggerated alarm about a real or imagined threat. So an alarmist basically inflates a potential threat beyond the real issue”. - New Anthropocene

After going through the data and learning of how climate change stories have plummeted in most global media and also noting, as keen observer of Ghanaian media, how a similar trend is happening in Ghana, I started thinking of the possible causes. One thing that struck my mind is the trend of the articles that are published on climate change! It always seems to be predicting doom! Can that be what is throwing people off?

I took time off to talk to a few non-scientist friends and find out from them what they know about climate change. I just sent this message via Facebook, yahoo messenger and skype: “My friend, please I want to ask you a question so kindly answer me. It's just for research purposes and I want a quick, frank answer. When you hear CLIMATE CHANGE, what comes to your mind? Is it good news or bad news? What emotion does it convey?” The answers I received within 5 minutes were really insightful. I am reproducing some of the answers I got in this piece:

“This climate change thing, I am even tired of hearing it. If we are going to die, let’s die. After all, we shall all die one day” – An accountant, Ghana

“Climate change means unpredictable weather patterns. It’s bad news, we are always see the bad effects of it who will be happy to see the effects of drought, acid rain, storms and hurricanes-just to mention a few”- Banker, Ghana

“Scary, some kind of the world is changing from good to bad. That's the feeling I get. I've never thought about any positive side” – IT person, Ghana

“When I hear climate change, it's a bad news for me” – Secretary, Burkina Faso

I think it is good news. With much attention to the gradual depletion of the ozone layer, I personally don't like to walk much under scorching sun – IT person, Ghana

“I know it has got something to do with the change of weather over a period of time. It could be either good or bad depending on the pattern and I am even sure that we as humans also contribute to this climate change” – Business Analyst, Ghana

“All the negative things we have done to destroy the environment are now coming to hurt us. It’s bad news. I am afraid for the future” – Development worker, Ghana

“Tsunamis, flooding, disaster, all are bad things. It is bad news” – Student, University of Ghana.

“They say little rainfall and that means no farming and no food. It is bad news. It makes me afraid” – Electrician, Ghan

“Climate change is bad weather. High temperature all the time, flooding all the time. It is causing many problems in Accra, especially” – Fashion designer, Ghana

“When I hear of climatic change, I get the sense that weather is changing not for the better but for the worse, and these are basically due to our own parochial harmful activities. it doesn't sound as good news to me, this is due to the fact that almost all the news I have heard on air about climatic change are directed at the worsened side of the climate. The emotion it conveys is not comfortable at all, I believe much can be done to reduce and possibly eradicate the issues of negative climatic change” – Civil Engineer, Ghana

Those were the responses I got from a cross-section of people. Out of the first 10 responses that came, only 1 person said climate change was good news although the continuation of that answer made it difficult to see the good news in it. This gives a fair representation of how the climate change message has been preached and the feeling it conveys in people. Then I ask myself, what can be the consequences of such a situation?

I don’t believe climate scientists are alarmists or are doing scaremongering but if that is how the ordinary people feel, can’t we do what we are doing in a different way to achieve better positive results? Whatever is perceived as scaremongering has the tendency of making people switch off and treat or such news as a nuisance. How can we put out the facts of our changing climate without sounding alarmists or scaremongers? I believe there is enough evidence of what is happening around us that can be pointed out to the world. There are discerning people in this world that can make informed decisions from facts. All of us climate change scientists and communicators should begin to learn more innovative ways of educating the world without sounding as doomsday prophets. For example, are there not opportunities in climate change; can’t we bring that to the fore as well? It’s time to change tactics.

“Comment is free but facts are sacred”. - Scott, Charles Prestwich

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


“It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities”. -- Josiah Stamp

Globally, are people getting less interested in talking about climate change? What might be the reasons for the seemingly less interest in climate change stories? Is there a feeling that enough has been said about climate change? Are people frustrated that they talk about climate change and yet see that nothing is happening? Is it to the benefit of the earth that we stop creating awareness of climate change and put pressure on ourselves to find solutions?

Last week, I had a discussion with a friend and we arrived at a conclusion that “climate change” is gradually fading away just as some words had become very topical some years ago and they gradually faded away. Our assertion was not backed by any real facts or analysis but we were convinced of what we said, basing our assertion on the frequency at which we are hearing and reading articles and editorials on climate change in the Ghanaian media. ‘Sustainability’, at some point, was the ‘catchword’ of every debate on the environment but this word gradually faded away; we will discuss this another time. Now, it seems climate change is gradually fading away too.

Then this week I come across a publication by that had the headline, ‘Climate coverage down again in 2011’. So we might be right with our assertion after all! In the article, it is stated that “media coverage of climate change continued to tumble in 2011, declining roughly 20% from 2010's levels and nearly 42 % from 2009's peak, according to analysis of's archive of global media”. Despite the many extreme weather events that occurred across the globe, famine in the Horn of Africa, Australia's approval of a carbon tax, COP 17 climate conference in South Africa, etc, coverage of climate change issues went down.

According to, at least 7,140 journalists and opinion writers published some 19,000 stories on climate change in 2011, compared to more than 11,100 reporters who filed 32,400 stories in 2009. Also, 20% fewer reporters covered the issue in 2011 than in 2010, 20% fewer outlets published stories, and the most prolific reporters on the climate change beat published 20% fewer stories. This information, in my opinion, is a wake-up call for all who are concerned to get back to work and write about this global challenge. We need to make more people aware of what is happening around us. Relentless efforts at creating public awareness of climate change issues which reached its peak in 2009 have helped to make the society more aware of the key issues in the problem. If media outlets and all writers would not relax but step up their game, some more minds would change to accept that climate change is real and there is the need to address it.

Climate-related issues published by the BBC in 2011, for instance, dropped by 30% from 2010, whilst ‘The New York Times’ published 953 stories and blog posts, against 1,116 in 2010 and 1,408 in 2009; according to Reuters published 1,235 stories in 2011 – more than three per day – its output was down 27% from 2010. Looking at this reducing trend, it seems climate change is no longer ‘that new girlfriend’ that was found to be extremely attractive and one couldn’t stop talking about!

One important consideration if we want the reading public to attach importance to climate change issues: “CLIMATE CHANGE should be seen in banner headlines”. “People take their cues about what's important from what shows up in the headline of the newspaper. It doesn't matter really what the articles say," says Robert Brulle, Drexel University.

So I ask again, is there a lack of interest in talking about climate change? What might be the reasons for the seemingly less interest in climate change stories? Is there a feeling that enough has been said about climate change? Are people frustrated that they talk about climate change and yet see that nothing is happening? Is it to the benefit of the earth that we stop creating awareness of climate change and put pressure on ourselves to find solutions?

Let’s wake up!

“In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences”. -- Robert Green Ingersoll