The Vice President, John Dramani Mahama, on Tuesday said, the discovery of oil and gas in the country has brought to the fore, additional challenges on the environment, particularly on the coastal landscape.
He stressed the need to ensure that oil and gas production is done in an environmentally sustainable manner, adding that, it was imperative for state agencies to strengthen their monitoring apparatus to ensure proper surveillance of the oil and gas operation and also build their capacity to respond to any unforeseen spillage.
The vice President, who is also the chairman of the Environment and Natural resources Advisory Council (ENRAC) said this in a speech read for him at the fourth Annual Review Summit of the Natural Resources and Environment sector at Elmina.
It was under the theme “sustainable management of natural resources and the environment for people”.
The three-day summit is being attended by stakeholders from the Ministries of Finance and Economic Planning, Land and Natural Resources, Environment and Science, as well as development partners.
It is to take stock and come out with pragmatic programmes that would ensure sustainable environmental management in the country.
Mr Mahama further expressed concern about the devastating effects of the natural resources degradation, especially during the past two decades, which have started to manifest in the extinction of Ghana’s premium timber species such as Odum, mahogany and sapele.
This he said had reduced the raw material base of the timber industry, the loss of biodiversity, drying up of water bodies, as well as, the loss of tourist sites and other natural resources that are important sources of revenue and livelihood support for the rural people.
He said the environmental cost of development in the 1990s was about 4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and that in 2006, the cost of environmental degradation was estimated at 10 percent of GDP, as water and air pollution, deforestation and desertification continues to take its toll.
The Vice President stressed the need to address the situation without further delay.
According to him the rate of deforestation is estimated at 65,000 hectare per annum and with the current natural forest estimate of 1.6 million hectare left, it implies that 23 years from now Ghana could be without any natural forest.
He was happy that the government has launched a massive national forest plantation development programme to restore the lost vegetative cover of Ghana and appealed to development partners to consider the allocation of funds for plantation development activities in subsequent years.
The Vice President pointed out that another source of worry is the unacceptable environmental stewardship by some mining firms, giving rise to polluted water bodies, increased mining related health problems and the resultant conflicts between mining companies and affected communities
Mr Mahama tasked the summit to seriously look at the issue of “galamsey” operations, which has become a death trap in many rural communities, adding that, issues of illegal chainsaw operation in the forestry sector and issues on land guards in the land sector should also be examined holistically.
Ms Sherry Ayittey, Minister of Environment, Science and Technology also in a speech read for her, pointed out that Ghana’s economy is highly dependent on the utilization of natural resources, especially forestry, wildlife and mining, which accounts for 15 percent of gross domestic product, adding that, about 70 percent of the population depends on natural resources for their livelihood.
Ms Ayittey said increasing population continue to exert enormous pressure on the environment and natural resources, and that, for the natural resources to continue supporting economic growth, there is the need to strengthen environmental governance through the development and implementation of sound policies, and improvement of the regulatory and institutional framework.
She said her Ministry would continue to leverage the support provided through the natural resources and environmental governance program, to ensure harmonization of related programmes and activities in the sector.
Mr Okom Afari, a Director at the Ministry of Finance called for the strengthening of governance systems, building the capacity to administer and monitor the sector and develop better linkages between the natural resources sector and other critical sectors of the country’s economy
He said the Ministry would ensure predictability of financing to the sector, which would be supported by robust financial framework and through better collection of license fees, royalties and taxes by the revenue and sector agencies.
Mr Gerard Duijfjes, Ambassador of the Royal Netherlands, who represented the development partners, also expressed concern about the rate of deforestation, and that if the approach is not changed, soon there may be no more forest left to protect, since the operational transformation to reach sustainable forest management has not started.
He regretted that management is centered in Accra and the regional capitals, thus providing limited support and incentives for the staff on the field, adding that, “it is important that the annual plans reflect the operational management of the reserves and their resources.
Mrs Ama Benyiwa Doe, Central Regional Minister, said the country is faced with the problems of “galamsey”, illegal chainsaw operation and sand winning at the beach, and called on all to change their attitude and adopt behaviours that would ensure a sustainable management of the these resources for the benefit of the present and future generation.