Lives at risk as vultures disappear in Ghana

Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), Mahama Ayariga.

Stakeholders in environmental protection have raised serious concerns about the decreasing population of vultures in Ghana’s Upper East region, warning that the gradual disappearance of the birds poses health risks to humans.

They raised the concerns during a climate change conference held in the region’s capital, Bolgatanga.

Addressing traditional authorities, heads of government institutions and civil society organisations at the event, the minister for the Upper East region, Albert Abongo, attributed the declining vulture population to reckless felling of trees in the region’s wild reserves.

The event, coordinated by the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), was dubbed “Regional Road Show on Paris Climate Change Agreement” and themed: “Implementation of Ghana’s Contributions”.

“You may have observed by now that vultures are very difficult to find in the Upper East Region today. Previously, when people made sacrifices, vultures would come around to consume the meat of the sacrificed animals. People still make sacrifices today but you hardly see vultures around. It is all because we are cutting down the trees in our forests. Vultures like very tall trees. That is where they are found.

“They are a species that play a crucial role in the ecosystem. But we’ve cut down those trees and they are gone. That’s a good example of the effects of environmental challenges we have to deal with as far as environmental degradation is concerned,” the minister said.

He also strongly advocated for the protection of the environment so the populations of the endangered trees and vultures can recover.

Vultures may carry both an unattractive look and a stomach-turning smell; but, like garbage men, they play a very important role in human society. If they were not part of the environment to consume the remains of animals, rabies among other deadly diseases would spread at an alarming rate through wild dogs that may end up feeding on animal corpses.

EPA silent about disappearing vultures

But the Upper East Regional Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Asher Nkegbe, bad-temperedly brushed off the concern in an interview with newsmen, saying: “Vultures and all that, his (the Regional Minister’s) experience is what he has told you (the seminar participants). I don’t have any evidence to that effect.”  

Meanwhile, civil society organisations in the region including the Ghana Coalition of NGOs in Health and the Centre for Youth Welfare and Development have shared the same concern, citing a rapidly shrinking number of the vultures that often stalk around slaughterhouses in the region as a cause for worry.

The director’s posture on the alarm has come as a shock to the public who expects the EPA, as an agency scheduled to protect the environment, to provide a detailed account about the vanishing vultures in the region’s endangered forests.

The coming national disaster  

The globe, Ghana included, is rolling gradually towards a doom that may conclude the pages of history anytime soon.  

The warnings about the disaster to come are contained in the rising temperatures around the world. Experts have blamed the trend on the gases emitted from vehicles powered by diesel or gasoline. And because the world’s population, which was only 1 billion in 1820, has swelled so fast to about 7.2 billion in 2016, the gas-emitting vehicles have multiplied in unimaginable numbers and global temperatures, as a result, have soared to a degree where they have become a decisive threat.

Mountains of ice, known as glaciers, around the world are heading in a slow motion for a meltdown in the seas as global warming mounts pressure. When the mountains finally dissolve in the seas, the volumes of seawater will brim over and the resulting tidal wave will swallow up cities and communities along the coastline.

The approaching disaster brought together 190 world leaders including monarchs to France’s capital to find a quick answer. In what became known as the Paris Climate Change Agreement, it was generally agreed that every country should not exceed a certain limit of gas emission to reduce global warming. It was agreed that the global temperature should not increase beyond 2 degrees. And just last month, Ghana’s President, John Dramani Mahama, was in New York to sign that agreement.

Every country promised to make a certain contribution called Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). The contribution, after the agreement, is referred to as Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).    

The Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Mahama Ayariga, told stakeholders at the seminar in Bolgatanga it was time for everyone to contribute towards preventing the world’s temperature from rising beyond 2 degrees and bringing it down to a maximum of 1.5 degrees.

“If the sea rises beyond the normal level, trust me, those of you who have your children in Accra, none of them will survive. That is the fact. That is the fact. If the sea in Accra rises beyond the normal level, we are all finished, because our airport is just a few kilometres from the sea, our Korle-Bu Hospital is not even up to one kilometre from the sea.

“The whole of Tema, our industrial city where all our manufacturing takes place, is just by the sea. So, if the level of the sea increases small, we would lose Accra, lose Tema, lose Cape Coast, lose many of the cities along the coast. They would be flooded. And all industrial activities would stop and our economy would be dealt a deadly blow. If the temperature of the world gets to 2 degrees, we are all in trouble. Everyone has to contribute by cutting down on emissions that are causing global warming to fulfill the promise the President made that Ghana would cut down its emissions by a certain level,” Mr. Ayariga explained.   

Support in the pipeline for tree growers

A number of developed countries have announced their readiness to team up with the World Bank to help developing countries grow trees to mitigate the crushing toll of Climate Change.   

The World Bank, according to Mr. Ayariga, has put in 1 billion dollars and has promised another 4 billion dollars for Africa under its Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative.

“These are commitments that have been made by developed countries to support environmental and climate-related actions. We have all the promises that France and the US and other countries have all promised to support. Many countries have made promises. But it depends on what you package and present to them.

“So, what we are discussing, if we package it as a proposal, we could present it to those countries as initiatives that Ghana wants to undertake and if they buy into it, they would be able to support. We think we need to provide incentives to individuals to grow trees that are of economic value so that so that they can in the future harvest and sell,” the minister disclosed.

Traditional authorities were encouraged at the event to be involved in the initiative principally to inspire their chiefdoms to do same. He also announced that government was designing a project to award schools that adopt best tree growing practices. The Ghana Education Service (GES), according to him, has been told to convince science and agriculture teachers to set up nurseries. Training and skills would be provided and seedlings supplied to schools nationwide.

Six million schoolchildren are expected to plant about three trees each on a special day called “World Tree Growing Day”. Awards including boreholes and computer laboratories would be given to best-performing schools in every district. The project, according to the minister, is not only aimed at instilling environmental consciousness in the youth but also intended for enhancing the knowledge and skills being acquired from science lessons through field exposure.  

Road Show to go round all regional capitals

Whilst stressing the need for everybody to get involved in the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the Executive Director of the EPA, Daniel Amlalo, announced that the road show would be organised in every regional capital to drum the message home.

“We’ve had a programme on desertification for some time where each year we celebrate or commemorate what we can do to prevent desertification and drought and its effects. The Environmental Protection Agency has worked in a number of districts. But that is not enough.  Now is the time for action. Things that we have put on paper we need to implement,” he emphasised.    

He added: “Our constitution says that the protection of the environment is responsibility of each and everyone. Everybody must be involved. So, the honourable Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation says we cannot sit in Accra and do this. We must go round all the regional capitals, hold meetings, seek your support and find out what we can do and what assistance you will need to protect the environment.”

Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/


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