GH Eco Class: – Lesson 1: Ecosystem Services

Introducing the GH Eco Classblackboard a

Are you concerned about the environment and want to know more about ecology and the science behind the issues? There are many aspects of environmental awareness that are based on science and The GH Eco Class will be a series of blog posts that cover lessons on environmental concepts. They will attempt to be relevant to the challenges we face in West Africa and be presented for anyone and everyone. Please leave comments on the posts and please feel free to suggest topics that you would like to be covered. This is meant to be interactive and informative, just like a fun classroom.

Lesson 1: Ecosystem Services

The earth gives us things that we could not humanly produce on our own even with all the technology in the world? Could we create water or air? Could we cultivate all of our fish in ponds and aquariums and feed the nation without depending on the rivers or sea? No, we couldn’t. Many of us have been brought up to see these as gifts from God/nature but we haven’t all been taught that these acts of God/nature are not everlasting and can actually run out if we don’t treasure them and handle them with care.

These are gifts or acts of nature are called Ecosystems Services and as green citizens and learners, we must be aware of their importance and fight to preserve them. Ecosystem services are provided when natural elements (such as soil, plants and animals, air and water) are transformed into things that we value as humans.

There are different types of ecosystem services and they usually fall under the categories of provisioning, regulating and cultural.

The provisioning services produce products that we directly use such as foods, firewood, natural medicine and fresh water.

The regulating services bring the benefits we get from nature staying in balance such as air quality regulation, climate regulation, water regulation, erosion regulation, water purification, disease regulation, pest regulation, pollination and natural hazard regulation.

The cultural services describe the non-material gifts we people obtain from nature such as spiritual enrichment or worship, mental and emotional relief and development, reflection, recreation and aesthetic experiences.

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So… How does this apply to me?

Imagine going to buy food at a restaurant (or chop bar) and there are no soups or stews on the menu. No light soup for your fufu, no palaver sauce for your yam, no jollof rice. You go to find out why and you are told that there are no tomatoes being sold in the markets to prepare any of these foods. As a matter of fact, there was no tomato harvest on any of the farms in the region this season. Why? One animal responsible for pollinating (fertilizing) the tomato is the bee. Because of human activities the population of these animals has fallen and there are none to pollinate tomatoes hence the terrible crop yield. There are no tomatoes for your kenkey and hot pepper. No tomatoes for your stew for your tuo zaafi. NO TOMATOES IN GHANA. This is a national disaster.

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FloodBut it can get worse. Imagine that the rains have come, as they have come now, and your entire town or city is flooded. Not just some select areas or houses but each and every road and house and compound and store is FLOODED. The land has become such that water has no path when it falls because we’ve allowed the land to become very bare, or cemented or empty of vegetation. Trees and other plants would have absorbed the falling rain and their roots would have created holes in the soil and places for the water paths for the water to seep underground. But they no longer exist. All the cement and paths make the landscape flat, which speeds up the pace of the flood. The gutters created can’t carry the water away into water bodies and the sea fast enough. And so as soon as it rains, it floods. Everywhere.

These images may seem unrealistic but they very well could happen if we lose the ecosystem services that God/nature has gifted us with. Our actions as humans and stewards of the earth heavily impact how these ecosystems survive and work. We must preserve and enhance them.

Eco Lesson

Now that you know what Ecosystem Services are, how does that change your perspective on where our priorities should be as individuals and as a country? Please leave your comments, your questions and your curiosities.

In the next lesson we will identify the major ecosystem services at risk in Ghana and ways that government and civil society can act to preserve them for the growth of the nation and health of the planet!

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Estimated Amount of Waste Generated Daily in Accra

Estimated Amount of Waste Generated Daily in Accra

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What is the State of Ghana’s Environment?

Yes, it’s been a long time since I updated but I promise to be getting better at that. As I continue my internship chronicles, I’d like to highlight on (in my own words) the proceedings and observations of the State of the Environment Forum. It was held during the 11th Environmental Film Festival of Accra (EFFA) on the 10thof June this year. This forum was meant to bring all major players in Ghana’s environmental sector together to present the major problems in each sub-sector and develop a list of solutions to present to Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency. As my current specialization is in Water and Sanitation, I joined the break-out session of that sub-sector. The other break-out sessions covered Climate Change, Natural Resources (Mining and Forestry) and Natural Resources (Oil, Gas and Fisheries).

From the proceedings of the session and my own personal observations, it seems we have a problem of infrastructure overload, particularly in the city of Accra. The city’s population has boomed and the government has failed to keep up with its growth with the necessary water and sanitation structures. The result? We all know it. Choked gutters, dead lagoons, polluted beaches, disease outbreaks and let’s not forget that stench that never seems to leave certain neighborhoods. In other areas we still see pitfalls in sanitation but not as trashed. So what is the state of Ghana’s environment? Well… it’s just FILTHY. And the main causes?

Trash…… Everywhere!!!

That about sums that point up! There’s trash everywhere and people have become so used to it that… they’ve just stopped caring. I was once at the Kaneshie Market (trying to get to circle of course) and I decided to do the right thing about some trash I was holding and look for a trashbin. I searched and searched at the lorry station and finally found one tucked away in a corner. How does one even feel prompted to do the right thing when the bin isn’t there? You just join the crowd and throw it in that gutter that’s already full anyways. And sure, there have been attempts at waste collection and recycling by companies such as Zoomlion but once a major part of that company becomes controlled by the government, well, it’s all downhill from there. And so the trash just keeps piling up. Zoomlion was at this session, by the way, and their main complaints seemed to be that people don’t cooperate and that space for landfills is running out. (of course! Space will run out if you’re not dealing with the trash in a sustainable way! But that’s another blog post for another day)

We Eat Our Own Shit

Don’t get squeamish… it’s the sad truth. As Ghanaians, we produce a lot of shit. As a matter of fact, Benjamin Arthur of the Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation (CONIWAS) reported that in the 5 major cities of Accra, Kumasi, Tema, Tamale and Takoradi-Sekondi 160 articulator trucks worth of solid waste is produced a DAY. Now, it’s a living truth that in Accra many people live in houses without toilets and different methods have been devised to get around it. Some use the plastic bag (which usually gets tossed in a gutter somewhere), some do it around Circle (pictured here) and some make themselves comfortable on the beach. Either way it all ends up back in our waterways and eventually in the sea. And oh, don’t you septic tankers leave yourselves out. Those tanks get pumped every 3 months or so and where does it end up? The sea of course. That same sea we fish and eat from. Those same waters that run into our pipes. So let’s face it, we really do eat our own shit.

A Battle of the Minds

Anywhere you go old habits are hard to break but in Ghana, breaking old habits is like pulling the teeth of a lion. We just love our trashy ways. We aren’t willing to consider being responsible as citizens for our environment but have left it to the government. One key question Zoomlion asked was “how ready are Ghanaians to separate their waste at home before collection?” How ready

are you my friend?

We’ve got it all but still want more

Ghana truly is a blessed country in many ways. We’ve got natural resources in our forests, agriculture, mining and now oil (I don’t know how I feel about that though). There are solar rays to be harnessed and tons of waste for renewable energies but instead of getting up off our butts and cleaning up, we want foreign investors to do everything for us. Instead of buying locally produced products, we continuously feed our importing addiction bringing in more trash. If only we valued what we had the way outsiders did, if only we saw ourselves as part of the problem, Ghana’s environment would be in a better state.

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Gotta appreciate the work of the swamps – World Wetlands Day.

There was a time in Ghana when rearing rabbits was the coolest thing to be involved in as a young boy. I remember we used to get fodder from a part of the neighborhood called ‘rice farm’ in Tema, Community 12. This place was a large swampy tract of land which was home to several types of grass, shrubs, birds, fish and animals. As kids, we just saw this place as a wonderland where there was an abundance of free rabbit food, fish to catch and tortoises to capture. Little did we know that the area served a vital ecological purpose.

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View of Sakumono lagoon showing Community 3 SSNIT housing estate. Photo Credit: http://www.panoramio.com
I have grown up to know this this ‘rice farm’ was an extension of the Sakumo Ramsar site that stretches from the Sakumono lagoon to parts of Tema West. It breaks my heart to tell you that as of today, that ‘wonderland’ we knew from the 90’s is no more as a result of human activity and rapid urbanization. Our ‘rice farm’ has been replaced with mansions.
As we commemorate World Wetlands Day in the month of February, it is just important that we understand the very vital role wetlands play in our ecosystem. One way of doing this is to raise awareness on the functions of wetlands which is highlighted later in this blog post.
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention, 1971) came into force in 1971.Ghana ratified this convention on 22 June 1988. Per the convention’s criteria, in Ghana there are six sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance with a surface area of 178,410 hectares. These are Muni-Pomadze, Densu Delta, Sakumo, Songor, Keta lagoon and Owabi wildlife sanctuary. A major obligation under the Convention is the implementation of the principle of ‘wise use’ of the wetland resources, where “wise use” is understood to mean “their sustained utilization for the benefit of humankind in a way compatible with the maintenance of the natural properties of the ecosystem” .

This is why we gotta appreciate the work of the swamps

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Wetlands have a myriad of roles they play for humanity and our environment. Increased research has come to establish their importance and many scholars have documented such findings. The ecosystem services derived from wetlands include;

• Water Purification -Wetlands remove sediments, nutrients, toxic substances and other pollutants in surface run-off water thereby improving the quality of water.
• Habitat -Wetlands provide habitat for high concentrations of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrate species. I remember I captured a small tortoise from one of our escapades at rice farm.
• Maintenance of the water table – Wetlands facilitate the movement of large volumes of water into the underground aquifer resulting in the recharge of the water table.This helps to constantly replenish underground water stocks.
• Flood and Erosion Prevention -Wetlands prevent surface run-off from moving swiftly downstream and overflowing. Thus they prevent erosion and flood conditions.
• Storm Protection – Wetlands such as mangroves and other forested coastal areas act as wind-breaks and help to dissipate the forces and impact of coastal storm surges.
• Climate Change Mitigation -Wetlands play at least two crucial yet contrasting roles in mitigating the effects of climate change: one in the management of greenhouse gases especially carbon dioxide and the other in physically buffering climate change impacts.
• Again wetlands provide micro-climate stabilization -Wetland vegetation may also evaporate or transpire much of the water into the atmosphere and help to maintain stable climatic conditions.
You can see for yourselves why it is imperative on our part to protect and preserve the few Ramsar sites we have left as a country. In this regard, the Wild Life Division of the Forestry Commission of Ghana who have the management of the nation’s wetlands under their purview are doing quite a good job at that. Let’s continue to herald the message of our Ramsar sites and create awareness as much as we can.
We want to hear your thoughts on this issue, leave your comments and let’s start a discussion.

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Give your time, Lift your country, Save your planet

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As conscious citizens we all have our dissatisfactions with the way things are. We wish laws were better enforced, we wish there was better employment for the youth, we just wish government would do better! Well, while we wait on the president and parliamentarians to get their act together, the opportunity has come for us to contribute our own part. The development of our nation is the collective responsibility of everyone, not just politicians. The Ghana Think Foundation has decided to use this year’s Founder’s Day (which celebrates the birthday of Ghana’s legendary first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah) to emulate just what he would want, it is now National Volunteer Day.

Volunteer day

The Ghana Think Foundation have christened Saturday, September, 21st, 2013 as National Volunteer day and you’d be doing yourself a great disservice not to participate. There’s even a promotional video. Check it out!

With this spirit of volunteerism, there are events springing up all over and yes, we will present to you the greenest of them.

Greening the Nkwantanang School

Kuukuwa Manful, a budding architect and member of the Ghana Think Foundation group is organizing an event to make the Nkwantanang Cluster of Schools in Madina, Accra a greener place for its students. With all volunteers that show up, she plans to build a playground, paint and plant some flowers using recycled materials. You can read more about her event here.

Playtime in Africa: Plant a Park!

Playtime in Africa

This event is being organized by the Mmofra Foundation which hosts cultural initiatives tailored to children. They have been working to create a children’s park which was inspired by Efua T. Sutherland’s photo essay in the 1960s which captured children’s play in Ghana. They will be painting, digging, planting, etc to create park areas for children. It will be from 12pm to 4am in Dzorwulu in Accra. Find out more here.

There will be Green Ghanaian representatives at both of these events. We couldn’t pass this great opportunity up.

So give your time this Saturday to lift your country… and save your planet. You owe it to generations of the future.

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#FotoGreenFriday – Talking Trash

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Congrats to our Chief Greenovator!

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Congrats to our founder and Chief Greenovator Akua Akyaa Nkrumah on winning second place in the Inspired By Ghana photo contest held by PhotoWalkGh. 

Take a look at her winning photo of scrap metal. What a shot!

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Rain, Rain Please (Don’t) Go Away

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As important as rain is for watering crops and replenishing our ground water it can also have devastating effects in our more urbanized areas.  Places that were meant to be open spaces for the water to collect and seep into the ground slowly have been cemented over causing runoff and erosion.  Gutters and infrastructure that was meant to carry water away from developed areas have become cluttered with trash and only assist in causing more flooding. Poorly constructed and maintained buildings can succumb to the rain when water seeps into cracks or washes away foundations and roofs.

Last month, according to Mr. Vanderpuije, Accra Metropolitan Chief Executive, Accra (was) ready for (the) impending floods – if everyone pitches in and helps keep areas clear of litter.  Other government officials spoke out about the upcoming raining season including the Coordinator of the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) and the Minister for Water Resources, Works and Housing who toured areas within the AMA.

Since the onset of the rains, many have been displaced and millions of cedis worth of property has also been lost. The season began with the loss of four lives in Yendi, some of which were struck by lightening.   In Nwanta, near Kyekyewere in the Tarkwa Nsueam Municipality, 100 residents were displaced. Although no deaths were recorded, losses were valued at GHȼ100,000.  11 soldiers and their families in Ho were displaced by a rainstorm when it ripped off the roofs of their buildings. Fishermen in Winneba and its surroundings lost about GH¢200,000 worth of fishing equipment including twenty-two canoes and fishing nets.  Parts of the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolis flooded, affecting the suburbs of Tanokrom, Anaji West, Namibia, Cocoa Villa, Egyinabowa-Kakam and Effia-Nkwanta Regional Hospital roundabout. After the downpour these residents were notified by NADMO that there would be no compensation for them due to a lack of funds at the organisation.  And finally, the residents of Bortianor, Lower Weija, Lower Oblogo, Lower McCarthy, Sapema, Tsokome, and Tetegu, as well as Pambros Salt Manufacturing Limited and Bojo Beach have been warned and some evacuated due to the spilling of excess water by the Ghana Urban Water Company Limited (GUWL) from the Weija Dam to avoid permanent damage to Accra’s only water treatment plant.

How have you been impacted by the rainy season?

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