FEATURES How climate change is secretly disrupting your city (life)

Some of the known impacts of climate change have been depletion of the ozone layer, the Arctic ice caps melting, sea levels rising, summers getting hotter and rainfall being erratic. However, these phenomena are often considered as distant ones, affecting the lives of ‘others’ and not really us.

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A scene from a market in Accra play

A scene from a market in Accra

(NextCity.org)
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This article was originally written by Roshni Rajiv for IMANI Africa.


Introduction

The city of Accra came to a standstill due to the magnitude of monsoon floods earlier this year. The city stood perplexed to a staggering toll of loss of over 200 human lives, irreparable damage to public and private properties indefinitely stalling business activities costing millions of Cedis to the national economy. Soon, fingers were raised at the Government for poor city development planning and an obsolete drainage system.  Amidst all this, a hidden issue still lurks around intensifying the consequences of floods year after year. This crucial yet often overlooked cause is the issue of Climate Change!

Understanding the Climate Change phenomenon

Some of the known impacts of climate change have been depletion of the ozone layer, the Arctic ice caps melting, sea levels rising, summers getting hotter and rainfall being erratic. However, these phenomena are often considered as distant ones, affecting the lives of ‘others’ and not really us.

During a parliamentary discussion on 19 February 2014, one of the members of Parliament highlighted the importance of drawing the public’s attention to the issue of climate change. He pointed out that often the public understanding of climate change is anecdotal and not factual. Especially in rural areas where most people view calamities such as floods, droughts and low agricultural yield as God’s will and not an effect of a serious global problem like climate change. This article (the first among the series of articles addressing climate change in Ghana), is an attempt in the direction  envisaged by the Ghanaian Parliament to widen the horizon of the common man bringing into light unforeseen ramifications of climate change in Ghana.

Some of the known impacts of climate change have been depletion of the ozone layer, the Arctic ice caps melting, sea levels rising, summers getting hotter and rainfall being erratic. However, these phenomena are often considered as distant ones, affecting the lives of ‘others’ and not really us.   

The National Center for Atmospheric Research in USA has reported that one of the direct and sooner consequences of climate change is increased frequency of heavy rains causing floods in some areas and droughts in other. The simple science behind this process is that global warming causes a rise in temperatures, which results in more evaporation and consequently higher moisture content in the atmosphere causing heavy rains. Similarly, an increase in the number of droughts is also due to rising temperature and high rate of evaporation, which decreases soil humidity. Floods and droughts lead to soil erosion and land degradation respectively turning agricultural lands infertile, thus causing scarcity of lands for cultivation.

In Ghana, similar effects of climate change have already manifested in the Northern, Upper-east and Upper-west regions. In these regions, the majority of the population comprises of farmers, greatly dependent on rainfall for their livelihood. Inconsistency in the amount or timing of rainfall causes either floods or droughts, directly affecting agricultural productivity. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that millions migrate from rural areas to urban areas around the world as a consequence of natural disasters or environmental issues caused by climate change. UNHCR refers such migrants as “climate refugees” or “environmental refugees”.

Climate change is a phenomena with ripple effects, often affecting a number of distant things to the extent that it looks absurd to connect the end results to the initial causes of climate change. This is the major reason why most people either fail to acknowledge the significant effects of climate change or view the warnings by environmentalist as exaggerated.

Below are five major ripple effects of climate change which are no doubt having some kind of an impact on your life right now

Rural-Urban Migration

Migration from the north to south Ghana in search of better job opportunities and standards of living has been a common practice over the past many decades. However, in recent times there has been an increase in the number of climate refugees migrating to the south. In a research survey conducted among 203 migrants from the Savannah in Northwest Ghana, majority of the migrants decided to migrate because of environmental reasons such as scarcity of fertile land, poor soil quality, low crop yields, environmental degradation, water shortage, poor water quality and sudden natural disasters.

Accra’s largest slum ‘Old Fadama’ nicknamed as ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ along the banks of the Korle lagoon is home to more than 80,000 migrants. Such illegal settlements pose challenges such as waste disposal, sewage disposal, water and environmental pollution and put further pressure on existing drainage infrastructure; thus heightening risk for floods. Most of these settlements were demolished recently when the officials discovered that the clogged lagoon prevented excess rain water from flowing into the sea, thus increasing the severity of floods.

Another chain effect of climate change which is also posing a threat to internal security of Accra is the increase in rate of unemployment and poverty. The migrants, often unskilled workers, are disappointed to discover that cities demand skilled labourers. This has led to a high unemployment rate in the city pushing these migrants into the high poverty zone. In February 2015, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) reported unemployment as the biggest socio-economic problem confronting Ghanaians of all ages and sexes. The most visible signals of unemployment are: armed robbery, prostitution, streetism etc. The frequent news reports of criminal activities in the city such as armed robberies and burglaries, are therefore not surprising!

Food Shortage Leading To High Rate of Import

In 2013, Ghana spent a staggering US$1.5billion on imports of basic food items such as rice, tomato, sugar, cooking oil, frozen fish and poultry.  With nearly 60% of the population engaged in agricultural sector, the country still struggles to achieve self-sufficiency in the agricultural sector. To achieve agricultural self-sufficiency, the fundamental change required is to encourage existing farmers to get into commercial farming and also to create opportunities for the younger generation to choose agriculture as their choice of occupation. However, if the current trend of migration of farmers continue, then the future beholds more acute shortage of basic food items which in turn will catapult the rate of imports. Ultimately, the burden of paying exorbitant price for basic food items will fall upon the vulnerable sections of the society, including the migrants in the cities.

Power Shortages

The outcomes of climate change have surfaced in our everyday lives in an astonishing number of ways. For instance, if we consider a common effect of climate change i.e. erratic rainfalls, on one hand heavy rains are received over a short period flooding the city and disrupting lives. On the other hand rainfall is not consistent during the monsoon to efficiently operate the Akosombo dam for instance. The normal water level required to operate the dam efficiently is 278 ft., however, the authorities revealed that the current water level is only 237 ft., just two feet above minimum operating level! This has resulted in increased ‘Dumsor’ (power shortage). For alternate power supply, the Government has resorted to importing expensive crude oil to power the thermal plants. So now one must be prepared to pay higher power tariffs.  Once more, high tariff rates will disproportionately affect the poor sections of the society!

Spread of Diseases

Another unpredicted and rather surprising outcome of climate change is the rise in spread of vector-borne diseases like malaria. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its third assessment report has confirmed that Africa would see an upsurge in spread of climate-sensitive diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, meningitis, cholera and dengue. The Regional Institute of Population Studies (RIPS) at the University of Ghana has also indicated that climate change will have dire consequences on the health of Ghanaians and the country’s development. Furthermore, the research findings by the Institute point out that the effects of climate change will lead to a high incidence of malaria and diarrhoea, the transmission of schistosomiasis and other diseases.

Erosion of Coastal Regions  

At the Fourth International Climate Change Conference on Africa held at the University of Ghana in July 2015, startling research studies about manifestation of climate change in Ghana’s coastal zone were revealed. The Volta delta region, especially the Dangbe East District is the most vulnerable to erosion and rising sea levels. Analysing the data of rising sea levels from 1929-1992, the research team concluded that sea level is rising by 3.1 mm per year along Ghanaian coast. A rise of sea level to 1 meter is sufficient to inundate the Volta delta area. The towns of Ada and Keta have witnessed effects of high erosion; one post office at Ada, for instance has been submerged by the sea already. The fishing communities particularly at Tema and Akosombo have been affected. They have lost most landing sites for canoes to erosion. The unemployed Ghanaian fishermen are forced to migrate to neighbouring countries such as Togo, Cameroon and Nigeria for alternative livelihood. They are hired as contract labourers with demeaning employment terms such as staying away from family for 2-3 years and uncompetitive wages.

Conclusion 

Ghana is one of the least contributors to global warming but one of the most affected nations by climate change. Being a lower-middle income country, Ghana strives to get into the league of middle income countries[14] and climate change should be tackled appropriately to prevent any retrogression in the development of Ghana.

The Ghanaian Government has taken pro-active steps in adopting the National Climate Change Policy in 2014 to achieve sustainable development through equitable low carbon economic growth. However, the policy lacks specific timelines for achieving climate change adaptation strategies and hence it remains just a compilation of broad guidelines.  Aid has also been pouring into Ghana in the form of Green Climate Fund from the United Nations to strengthen the Ghanaian capacity to monitor and adapt to climate change issues.

Nonetheless, the issues of climate change cannot be handled in isolation since its impacts are multidimensional stirring across sectors including agriculture, irrigation, fisheries, trade, power, health, industrial and infrastructural development and social development. Consequently, effective adaptation to climate change would be amending existing policies of various impacted sectors to include sector-specific climate change adaptation strategies.

Roshni Rajiv is head of Center for Climate Change, Agriculture and Environmental Studies at IMANI. For interviews: roshni@imanighana.org.

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