I do not purport to know much about forests but I know there is a saying, that when the last tree dies, the last man dies. I also do not know too much about the scientific linkages between the existence of water bodies and forests, but I know that wherever there are forests, freshwater bodies abound. I was therefore not surprised to learn that the Atewa Forest in the Eastern Region is home to the headwaters of three important rivers in Ghana.
On 30th January 2019, I attended a public lecture and an exhibition organized by AROCHA Ghana, in which offerings from the Atewa Forest were exhibited.
A number of speakers comprising professors, members of the Diplomatic Corp, Traditional Authorities, NGOs and Concerned Citizens, deliberated on the theme for the exhibition, which was “Securing Atewa for Wellbeing and Prosperity Beyond Today”. The briefings from all the speakers boiled down to a call on the government of Ghana to develop the Atewa Forest into a National Park, like the Kakum and the Mole National Parks instead of nursing plans to begin bauxite mining in that forest.
I learnt from the speakers that the Atewa Forest, also known as ‘Kwaebibirem’, is of global importance because it is home to some species, which can only be found in that forest and that, that forest is also recognized as a site for the conservation of birds and other important biodiversity.
As an individual who works in the water sector, I have a special interest in freshwater sources and so I was happy to learn from the speakers during the exhibition, that three important watersheds in Ghana, the Birim, Densu and Ayensu trace their sources in the Atewa enclave. It was also an eye opening moment for me when the President of AROCHA Ghana mentioned that over 50 million Ghanaians get their water needs from those watersheds.
As we celebrates World Water Day 2019, I would like to use the opportunity to remind government and all stakeholders about the importance of freshwater resources in the world and why more attention must be paid to protecting the fresh water resources in Ghana.
According to a 2017 report of the United States Bureau of Reclamation, the earth has more water than land as the earth’s surface is made of about 70% water. One could therefore assume that water shortage would not be much of a concern for humans. However, according to National Geographic, 99% percent of the earth’s water is unusable by humans and many other living things.
While about 97% of the earth’s water is saline, only 3% of it is fresh. Of that 3%, over 2% of it is locked up in glaciers and polar ice caps, leaving us with just about 1% of the earth’s water, in the form of rivers and underground aquifers, to use for our consumption and societal development.
Water is finite. The Groundwater Association in 2012, said the world uses about 321 billion gallons of surface water per day and 77 billion gallons of groundwater per day. Other Scientists say that the amount of water circulating through the earth’s hydrologic cycle is the same amount that has been there since the world began, not a drop more or less has been added ever since. What has changed however is the number of people living on earth, and thus, the amount of drinkable water required for human sustenance.
The United Nations also reports that in the last century alone, water consumption has grown at more than twice the rate of population increase. Again, a 2013 report by the Global Water Institute says that about 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030.
The above statistics should serve as a clarion call to all nations of the world to protect the freshwater resources available to them. Ghana is blessed with a good number of freshwater resources but we should not become complacent. We could become a water stressed country if we do not protect our watersheds but continue to treat our fresh water sources the way we do currently.
It is in the quest to protect our fresh water sources that I call on the government of Ghana to save the watersheds in the Atewa Forest. I do not know how far advanced government’s plan of bauxite mining in the Atewa Forest has gone. Whatever the case may be, government must do everything possible to save the fresh water sources in that forest.
I have read some literature that suggests that before bauxite mining is done, it is possible to remove and save the top soil and other important flora and fauna for restoration after the mining process. I found that insight fascinating.
Indeed, I believe it is possible to do some form of restoration after mining. The question in my mind that remains unanswered is this: is it also possible to restore water bodies in a bauxite mining concession after the mining activities have taken place? In addition, even if restoration of the water bodies are possible after mining, what happens while the process is in place? Where would the millions of people who depend on those rivers get their water needs before the restoration takes place?
Government should critically consider these concerns and do everything possible to preserve the watershed in the Atewa enclave.
I am not against mining and I am definitely not against economic development. I am however against every mining process that has the potential to negatively impact on our water bodies, whether that type of mining is being done underground, on bare land or in forests.
By Solace A.M. Akomeah
The writer is a communications specialist working in the water sector.