Public Agenda (Accra)

Ghana: Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction

Ghana — 13th October is the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction and is being celebrated with a range of activities in Ghana. Also, the global community's attention will soon turn to Durban, where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP17) is being held in November and December. It is important that we closely link these two events, both globally and in particular in Ghana. This is because the most immediate manifestations of climate change in Ghana are the twin disaster situations of flooding and drought.

Natural climate related disasters are already increasing in frequency and magnitude, both globally and in Ghana. Importantly, these increases are predicted to continue, meaning that their economic and social costs will also continue to rise. There are a number of reasons behind these increases, including climate change and land-use change, such as deforestation.

Climate change and related natural disasters present a real threat to the achievement of all eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and may exacerbate the existing inequalities between the North and the South of Ghana. Variability of rainfall increases the financial and livelihood risks associated with farming as prediction is becoming very difficult. Investments in agriculture are becoming more expensive, risky and less profitable. Crops are increasingly destroyed by floods which occur more often and more severely. Agriculture is not the only sector of society to be affected. Climate change and disasters constitute an overall development issue, impacting on different sectors, such as education, health, food security/agriculture, transport and tourism.

Floods have become a recurrent phenomenon in Ghana. In 2007, floods affected more than 300,000 people in the country, resulting in loss of life, infrastructure, livelihoods and food security. The 2007 floods were believed to have required more than $25 million for emergency response, and to have resulted in more than $130 million worth of direct damage.

The current approach to dealing with disasters in Ghana is focused on responding to them once they have occurred. As we could see from the 2007 floods, such an approach is not only resulting in unnecessary death but also puts at risk decades of development gains, from schools and hospitals being washed away to the destruction of entire road networks. The significant resources spent to respond to the disaster cannot compensate for the loss of life, infrastructure and economic opportunities. Because emergency response has been the prevailing concept in many countries, the global community is now moving from a re-active approach towards the inclusion of disaster risk reduction and preparedness into long-term planning. This becomes all the more relevant at a time of increasing climate risks and an expansion in the scale of natural disasters.

The UN system in Ghana is supporting the Government of Ghana to take a longer term, proactive approach to plan and prepare for natural disasters. Key partners in these efforts include the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Ghana Meteorological Agency (Gmet). It is essential that these organisations, and society as a whole, grasp the issue of long-term planning now to prevent the impacts of climate change leading to ever increasing economic and social costs from national disasters. Actions are needed across all sectors: the implications of natural disasters and climate change are felt throughout society and it is therefore imperative that these issues are not considered to fall solely within the domain of the environmental sector.

There are a number of key partners in these efforts include the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Ghana Meteorological Agency (Gmet). It is essential that these organisations, and society as a whole, grasp the issue of long-term planning now to prevent the impacts of climate change leading to ever increasing economic and social costs from national disasters. Actions are needed across all sectors: The implications of natural disasters and climate change are felt throughout society and it is therefore imperative that these issues are not considered to fall solely within the domain of the environmental sector.

It is possible to initiate long-term planning with simple, yet effective interventions. For example, the Aowin Suaman District Assembly, in the Western Region, has received training to mainstream climate change and disaster risk reduction into their District Development Plans, as well as funds to implement an adaptation project under the Africa Adaptation Programme (AAP) in Ghana. AAP is being implemented across 20 countries in Africa, to help with the continent's response to climate change and natural disasters. In Ghana, AAP is being implemented by the EPA, with support from NADMO, Gmet and National Development Planning Commission, with UNDP providing technical support and oversight.

As part of the long-term planning of the Aowin Suaman District Assembly, more than 100 artisans in the town of Enchi, will soon be moving to a new purpose built light industrial area, meaning that they will escape the flooding that disrupts their livelihoods several times every year.The artisans, who include vehicle mechanics, furniture makers and others currently occupy a site close to the Disue river, which passes through the centre of Enchi town. In the past, the river has occasionally burst its banks and flooded the artisans' workshops and the town centre, but since 2007 this has happened several times each year, bringing problems on a very regular basis.

The foresight being used in Aowin Suaman District means that with relatively simple and low cost activities, the lives of many people are set to be transformed, moving the town of Enchi from a situation of being vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters, to a situation of resilience.

Activities supported by the UN system in Ghana, such as those by in Aowin Suman, demonstrate that effective long-term planning can work. However, donors will not be able to provide all the funding to mainstream this planning across all sectors, and particularly to implement the necessary interventions. The next essential step for ensuring that communities in Ghana are not put at unnecessary risk is to ensure that adequate resources from within Ghana are allocated to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. This means that Government institutions, the private sector and civil society need to work together to mobilise the funds to ensure a safer future for Ghana.

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