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Perspectives on Fulbright Specialist Visit to the Institute for Environmental and Sanitation Studies, University of Ghana

25 August 2015

I recently completed two serial visits to the Institute for Environmental and Sanitation Studies (IESS), as a Fulbright Specialist in the area of Urban Planning, specifically Environmental Land Use Planning and Management. I had a great experience and was able to cover a lot within the two short periods, including: presentation of lectures for graduate (MPhil and PhD) students, faculty and other stake holders; participation in lead seminars and workshops; participation in specialized academic programs; review and editing of research documents and studies, and an initial assessment of an environmental justice case at the request of the IESS Director, Professor Chris Gordon.

First Visit

The highlight of my first visit was the field trip/tour of the Eastern Region with colleague professors and research fellows, as well as in-coming MPhil and PhD students. From 1st February through 6th February 2015, we visited the following places: Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana, New Tafo; Plant Genetic Resources Center, Bunso; Atiwa Forest Reserve/Watershed, Legal and Illegal Smll Scale Mining sites; Nemont Akyem Mines, New Abirem; Mount Odweanoma, Kwahu; Kotoso Water Intake Point and Treatment Plant; Upper Manya Krobo District Assembly; and Asesewa Market. For IESS, the intent of the trip is to offer graduate students an opportunity to think through their intended project/research work, make observations and conceptualize relevant issues. Personally, the trip offered me the opportunity to get a first-hand experience of the gamut of environmental issues of concern in Ghana (e.g., Climate Change, waste generation and management problems, forest degradation and deforestation, water pollution, water treatment and supply, soil erosion and degradation, urban form/human settlement problems, disease control, environmental health and safety issues associated with mining activities, watershed disturbance, etc.,) and the efforts being implemented to address these concerns. The trip therefore, provided me with the basis for collection of empirical information for further research and analysis. The interaction with graduate students and research fellows in discussing and analyzing our observations and formulating ideas in the field was simply priceless.

The second week was mostly used for interaction with IESS fellows, staff, and students, as well as providing lectures and technical assistance. I provided lectures and seminars on two consecutive days in Environmental Law (specifically, the US National Environmental Policy Act-NEPA, and the California Environmental Quality Act- CEQA) and Environmental Impact Analysis Methodology and Procedures. The lectures were interactive, as practical examples were drawn from the field trip, and my own practice in the field of Environmental Planning from the US. The lectures were mostly attended by PhD. and MPhil students, and a few research fellows as well as a consultant from Ghana’s EPA.

Also, at the request of the IESS Director, I visited Mepe, Aveyime and Battor in the Lower Volta Basin area of Ghana, together with Dr. Ted Annang of IESS and Mr. Simon Ogah, the president of the Inland Culture Fisheries Association of Ghana. Our mission was to assess an Environmental Justice issue regarding the condition of women previously engaged in clam and oyster business, but who have been displaced as a result of the construction of the Volta River Dam and are still expecting some form of assistance/compensation promised them. We observed first hand, how the clam picking is done on a small scale, discussed potential large scale production opportunities with the women’s organization, and reuse/recycling potential of the aquatic weeds associated with the clam/oyster production business.

Currently, the Inland Fisheries Association of Ghana is assisting them from an advocacy and grant/funding proposal standpoint, and IESS will provide any technical assistance to the association in terms of feasibility and viability of large scale production and environmental management of the aquatic weeds and waste products, as well as review of any outreach materials to ensure effective communication, awareness and outreach.

The first trip was overall successful, and laid the foundation for the second trip in June 2015. During the second trip, I intend to look further into the issue of Environmental Justice in the Lower Volta Basin areas by providing technical support and advice on research and scholarship. I also intend to provide lectures on Integrating Environmental Justice into the Planning Process, and Methodologies for Assessing Environmental Justice Impacts.

Second Visit

My second visit to IESS was from June 8th 2015 through June 28th 2015. Although the timing coincided with the Institute’s Summer Vacation, it was more appropriate since there was time to organize and advertise for a seminar/lecture series for graduate students, the extended University community, and others outside the university.

Figure 2 Lecture/Discussion With IESS Faculty

The seminar series were as follows:

1. Tuesday June 16th, 2015

US National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)/California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Ghana's Environmental Assessment Regulations - Similarities, Differences, and Lessons

2. Wednesday June 17th , 2015

Methods For Assessment of Environmental Impacts - Processes, Trends and Adaptable Techniques for Ghana's Environmental Setting

3. Tuesday June 23rd, 2015
Environmental Justice - Notable Cases in the US and Ghana, and Assessment Procedures

The seminars were attended by graduate students (MPhil and PhD), IESS Fellows and staff, Ghana EPA staff, consultants and some members of the University of Ghana community. On the 3rd of June, and prior to my arrival in Ghana, approximately 152 people had lost their lives as a result of flooding and fire at a particular Gas Station located at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, a popular transportation node in Accra. Several reasons had been attributed as the cause of the flooding and fires, including development of residences and businesses along floodways, lack of maintenance and de-silting of the Odaw River/Lagoon, construction activity (i.e. Interchange) near the location of the fires, possible leakage of gasoline from underground storage tanks (USTs) at the Gas Station, lack of fire-fighting equipment at gas stations, absence of appropriate permitting and licensing procedures, lack of effective environmental regulations and implementation, and many more. In response to the catastrophe, the Accra Metropolitan Authority had embarked on a demolition exercise of all illegally constructed structures along the Odaw River bank, including the community of Sodom and Gomorrah, a slam/blight area mostly inhabited by migrants and low income people in Accra.

As a result, much of the discussion after the first two lectures was focused on what could have been done to have prevented the catastrophe, and whether Ghana’s Environmental Assessment Regulations were effective in dealing with environmental hazards such as the one cited above. An issue pointed out by a notable authority, which featured prominently in the discussion, and sparked an interesting debate was the following: “Dr. Manford, your presentation seems to be predicated on two assumptions, that 1) There is a master plan of development to be followed; and 2) That there exists the political will to implement the said plan. How do we reconcile and operationalize these assumptions within the Ghanaian context?” I remarked that the remark was rightfully a very good observation, but a loaded one that will take a lot to dissect and answer. Yet, each one of the two assumptions and/or observations also seems to counteract the other. It is possible that there may be political will but because there is no plan nothing gets done, or there is a plan that cannot be implemented because of lack of political will. There could also be the possibility that none of the two exists.

Nonetheless, I also posed the question that, if there is no plan, then on what basis or knowledge did the AMA demolition exercise take place regarding the location of structures within a floodway, from both a Political and Planning Standpoint? What were the terms of reference and purpose of the demolition exercise? The institutions with specific planning and environmental protection functions, together with technocrats exist. However, the reactive (as opposed to proactive and integrative) and to some extent, political nature of addressing environmental problems is what makes those institutions ineffective, and environmental regulations unenforceable. An important factor that also seems to be overlooked is the fact that environmental hazards and problems know no political boundaries. Regardless of how one looks at the issues at stake, it is clear that there is a disconnection between land use planning, and implementation of environmental regulations in Ghana. Effective environmental protection (e.g., prevention and containment of natural/man-made hazards, urban growth control, pollution control, waste management, etc.,) cannot occur without proper planning and land use control. Therefore, the tools and resources for managing land use and physical development must form the basis of environmental protection, and a movement away from reactive measures that have proven to be less effective.

IESS, with its available resources, can help fill this void in two distinct, but related areas: 1) Provision of training, capacity building and certification in Land Use Planning for professionals and technocrats engaged in environmental protection; and 2) Development and implementation of a course as part of its Environmental Science curriculum, in Environmental Land Use Planning and Management, to equip future leaders with the necessary tools and resources to be more proactive and integrative in dealing with environmental problems.

The third lecture on Environmental Justice was more of a corollary to the two previous lectures, and set the stage for further discussion and research. A lot of the discussion focused on the effectiveness of Executive Order 12898 (EO 12898-Environmental Justice for Low Income and Minority Populations) in the US in addressing environmental protection in low income and minority areas. What makes the executive order effective and why environmental regulations don’t seem to work in Ghana, as witnessed in specific slum and/or poverty stricken areas (e.g., Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lower Volta Basin area). We also discussed the similarities and differences between Executive Order 12898 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and how they are complimentary and supplementary to each other in protecting the environment in general, and lower income and minority areas in particular. The lecture also provided an insight into how environmental justice is incorporated in the planning and assessment process in the US, and the need to develop a methodology for addressing environmental justice issues in Ghana.

Questions that came up for discussion included the following: 1) Besides the 1992 Constitution that provides equal rights and protection in general for all, are there any specific laws for equal environmental protection for all?; and 2) Could a similar Executive Order to EO 12898 (i.e., a presidential order or decree) constitute the basis for the political will needed to effectively implement environmental regulations in Ghana?

In addition to the lecture series, upon the request of the Director of the institute, I reviewed, edited and provided feedback on a working paper released in in 2015. The paper is entitled “Reoptimization and Reoperation Study of Akosombo and Kpong Dams – Alternative Means of Restoring Agriculture for Livelihood Improvement in the Absence of Flooding to Enable Recession Agriculture” by Yoro Sidibe and Morloes Mul.

It is noteworthy that the issue of Environmental Justice also falls in line with the research interests of two of the Research Fellows of the Institute, Dr. Dzidzo Tawiah-Yirenya, and Dr. Jesse Ayivor. As a result, we discussed the potential definitional, functional and operational challenges with the concept of Environmental Justice in Ghana. If the keywords in the US executive order (i.e., equity, fairness, disproportionate burden, minority, low income) were to be rigidly followed, how do we define them in the Ghanaian context internationally, nationally, and/or domestically? For example from an international standpoint, do we consider Ghana low-income and/or disproportionately burdened when we assess the environmental impacts of the extractive activities of multinational corporations in Ghana? Domestically, how do those keywords describe the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah in the inner city of Accra, or the displaced residents of the rural Lower Volta Basin?

Based on my lecture on Environmental Justice, and discussions with the two Fellows, there is a mutual agreement to continue research and studies in the area of Environmental Justice, using the Lower Volta Basin area as a starting point. The intent is to come up with a conceptual framework for defining, functionalizing and operationalizing the key characteristics of Environmental Justice within the Ghanaian context, based on case studies. The expected publication will be a key contribution to research in Environmental Justice, and Environmental Planning and Protection for the poor in Ghana.