A piece of my mind: Making Ghana green again

This morning I shall delve into an oft-neglected area of discussion: the issue of growing more trees. Deforestation is fast catching up with many countries in sub-Saharan Africa...

This morning I shall delve into an oft-neglected area of discussion: the issue of growing more trees. Deforestation is fast catching up with many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The question is, what are we, as a country, doing about this situation that is staring us in the face?

Some have spoken about making their part of the world great again. I am more concerned with making my little corner of the world, Ghana, green again - that is if we have ever been green through our own effort, in the first place, and not simply owing to nature's own self-sustaining mechanisms.

If you have followed the news recently, you would have heard of how Ghana is said to have recorded a 60 percent rise in forest loss between 2017 and 2018, according to Global Forest Watch. Accra itself is fast becoming a concrete jungle. All these point to disaster in the making, environmentally speaking, of course. Yet no one is speaking about these issues! No one is desperately waving the red warning flag that ought to be waved to our politicians!

As a station focused on matters bordering on social advocacy and as a patriotic citizen who will not sit aloof and look on like an unconcerned spectator, I decided, this morning, to speak on this very thorny issue - something removed from the usual political "kominini," yes, but very relevant to our well-being as a people. I am touching, this morning, on a very pressing need, a need more pressing than the ceaseless political rigmarole that often inundates our discussions. I am talking about tree planting. Tree planting, one might ask? Where from that and how is that a big deal? Well, I shall explain to you shortly.

Have you noticed just how hot Ghana has become? It is without a doubt that global warming, climate change, is hitting us hard in the face. It has become so bad that for me, I can no longer drink lukewarm water – I have to get chilled water! My air conditioners are on full blast at home more often now. How man for do, chalé? The sweltering weather is just too uncomfortable for me!

A report dating all the way back to the year 1991 conducted by the University of Indiana points to the indiscriminate tree-cutting activities in some local communities, the loss of virgin and secondary forests and so on. I know this was not the first of its kind to have pointed us in the direction of the threat posed by our uncontrolled human activities, so why have we still not actively reacted to this menace? Have we really taken stock of such publications? Have we learnt anything from them? Yes, there have been some tree-planting exercises in Ghana, Accra to be specific, in recent times; but have they been commensurate with the rate at which our climate is changing? Government, last year, was meant to recruit some 15,000 people for a tree-planting exercise. What ever happened to that?

Recently, in the course of a discussion, a good friend and adopted uncle of mine, a three-time former deputy minister under the Kufuor administration who dutifully managed three different portfolios, said that he would want to see a 1H1T project, backed by government, kick off at some point. What is 1H1T? 1 House, 1 Tree.

It is my opinion that this government, in attempting to make Accra the cleanest city in Africa, should give some thought to this proposal. More trees imply less heat, of course, among other benefits. My only fear here would be that more trees, while giving us higher quality air to breathe, etc., will also bring us more rain - and that is where I get afraid, because of our longstanding, unresolved flooding problem, especially here in Accra. All the same, I am still going to advocate the planting of trees in Ghana, beginning with our capital city.

Now tell me, are you as concerned as I am with regard to this subject of tree planting? These are the things that responsible, caring governments should be thinking of; but then again, I forget that this is Africa, specifically Ghana! Anyway, I want to believe we can still give our leaders some benefit of the doubt, can we not? We can still hope that with such pieces like this one, they can turn over a new leaf and do what is needed, right? Japan has an incredibly healthy population that has one of the longest life expectancy levels in the world partly because of - you guessed it - trees! Okinawa, Japan, has the highest life expectancy in the world. Their rate of cardiovascular disease is 20% that of the U.S. Breast and prostate cancer occur only 25% as often. Dementia is one-third as likely. Apart from exercise, healthy eating, time to slow down daily, among others, the prevalence of garden trees, and others, contributes to the general health of the people.

Urban trees, as studies have shown, can help to mitigate some of the negative impacts and social consequences of urbanisation, and this make cities more resilient to these changes. The following are some ways in which trees contribute to making cities more socio-economically and environmentally sustainable:

Trees can contribute to the increase of local food and nutrition security, providing food such as fruits, nuts and leaves for both human consumption and fodder. Their wood, in turn, can be used for cooking and heating.

Trees play an important role in increasing urban biodiversity, providing plants and animals with a favourable habitat, food and protection. A mature tree can absorb up to 150 kg of co2 per year. As a result, trees play an important role in climate change mitigation. Especially in cities with high levels of pollution, trees can improve air quality, making cities healthier places to live in.

A strategic placement of trees in cities can help to cool the air between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius, thus reducing the urban “heat island” effect, and helping urban communities to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Large trees are excellent filters for urban pollutants and fine particulates. They absorb pollutant gases (such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone and sulphur oxides) and filter fine particulates such as dust, dirt or smoke out of the air by trapping them on leaves and bark.

Research shows that living in close proximity to urban green spaces and having access to them can improve physical and mental health, for example by decreasing high blood pressure and stress. This, in turn, contributes to the well-being of urban communities.

Mature trees regulate water flow and play a key role in preventing floods and reducing the risk of natural disasters. A mature evergreen tree, for instance, can intercept more than 15,000 litres of water per year. Does that not sound like something we would need in Ghana, especially considering our flood situation?

Trees also help to reduce carbon emissions by helping to conserve energy. For example, the correct placement of trees around buildings can reduce the need for air conditioning by 30 percent.

Planning urban landscapes with trees can increase property value by up to 20 percent and attract tourism and business.

Mr. President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, some of your one this one that projects have not gone anywhere. I believe, however, that if you started an initiative of this nature, tied to making Accra, the cleanest and healthiest city on the continent, you would have done much more for your people than you could ever imagine! My proposal? 1H1T: 1 House, 1 Tree! Let our streets be lined with trees! Let there be more parks filled with trees! Let our ministries and other public institutions have more trees! Let our schools grow more trees and let tree-planting inculcate a sense of responsibility and environment-consciousness for our planet into our young ones! Let our health facilities have more trees! Let Jubilee House grow even more trees! Make it a policy, Your Excellency, and it will be a great legacy for you! We shall, undoubtedly, remember you for it!

But as I pray you to do this, Your Excellency, let me quickly add that if you do take it up, I would beg you to ensure that any such project is handled by experts and not tainted with corrupt dealings and sole-sourced contracts; that would only roundly defeat the entire purpose of this idea and take us backward, rather than forward. I have done what I can, Your Excellency, by drawing your mind to this. I also shall, in my own little ways, continue advocating the planting of trees wherever I go. But you, sir, can make this regional and even national, and that is why I am reaching out to you, this morning. The ball is now firmly in your court, Your Excellency. I do hope you muster the courage to kick it. And finally to you, my fellow citizens, let us green Ghana so we can save Ghana. Let us contribute our quota toward making Ghana greener so we all can live better. Let us not forget: no trees, no life.

I write and I speak about these burning issues because I am a citizen, not a spectator. My name is Benjamin Akakpo and this is a piece of my mind.

-The Author is the Host of the Executive Breakfast Show on Class 91.3 FM

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