The environment is a secondary concern behind people’s livelihoods and rights.

By Rhogan

Is the environment a secondary concern behind people’s livelihoods and rights? Should it be? In my opinion the environment should not be secondary. However, I also believe that people’s livelihoods and rights should not be secondary to the environment either. I consider the environment and the sustainability of it to be an integral part of people’s livelihoods and rights.

In many developing areas alterations in the environment, whether positive or negative, is often very recognisable and has various effects on people’s lives. It could be a natural change such as lack of rainfall leading to drought or it could be a change in a particular environment due to human influences.

An example of this could be damming a river. Controversy has surrounded the construction of dams over the past 50 years because of their potential social, economic, and environmental impact.

Certain impacts of a dam are sometimes positive. Dams can control flooding, improve irrigation, provide hydroelectric power or regulate water supply. When concerning people’s livelihoods and the environment then the above points are certainly positive.

However, dams can also present negative impacts as highlighted below:

The author of “Social Impacts of Brazil’s Turucui Dam”, which was published in the Environmental Management journal in 1999, described how the Turucui dam displaced large numbers of people without adequate compensation and reduced downstream fish catches so much that the fish-dependent economy of Cameta collapsed.

I imagine many people would agree this infringes on the rights of these people and more than likely damages their livelihoods as well.

Additionally, examples of possible negative environmental impacts of dams are also available:

A 1990 internal survey of World Bank hydroelectric dam projects showed that 58% were planned and built without any consideration of downstream impacts, even when these impacts could be predicted to cause massive coastal erosion, pollution and other problems.

Furthermore,

…along the mouth of the Volta River in Ghana. Akosombo Dam has cut off the supply of sediment to the Volta Estuary, affecting also neighbouring Togo and Benin, whose coasts are now being eaten away at a rate of 10–15 meters per year. A project to strengthen the Togo coast has cost $3.5 million for each kilometre protected.

The Akosombo Hydroelectric Dam. Creates 1,020 MW of electricity but also displaced many people and had a significant impact on the environment.

Now the construction of dams is just one example of human intervention that can impact the environment. But I would consider that all human interventions on the environment would have a certain amount of impact, whether or not it is for better or worse. Yet I’d like to refer back to my initial statement. This was that, “I believe the environment and the sustainability of it is an integral part of people’s livelihoods and their rights”. I am of the opinion that human beings should harness whatever is possible from the environment to help aid our livelihoods. But in doing so also strive to improve our environment and most certainly not damage it, regardless of whether the damage caused is irreversible.

This is where I believe we have failed in the past. In some cases this could be put down to a lack of knowledge about the negative effects we are having. However, these days climate change is a topic many of us are aware of and for this reason I feel we have no excuse to be more sympathetic to our surrounding environment:

The World Commission on Dams (WCD), a multilateral commission wrote a seminal report in 2000 in response to a 1997 World Bank report on the highly controversial issues associated with large dams…

The report recommended that all dam projects should subscribe to:

 Five core values:

 Equity, sustainability, efficiency, participatory decision-making and accountability

 Seven priorities:

Gaining public acceptance

Comprehensive options assessment

Addressing existing dams

Recognising entitlements and sharing benefits

Ensuring compliance and sharing rivers for peace

Development

Security

These recommendations were echoed in the report, “Sharing the benefits of large dams in West Africa”, published by International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in 2010. It highlights the areas of conflict that arose in the proposal and subsequent building stages of the Lesotho Highlands Water project. However, few of the financial institutions funding the building of dams, such as the World Bank, have adopted WCD’s recommendations.

I feel that institutions, such as the World Bank, have a major input on not only the environment but also people’s livelihoods and rights when they embark up on certain development projects. This being the case, I believe they hold a great responsibility for people and the environment. They should, therefore, always endeavour to preserve what is worthy and encourage the introduction of methods that help us to capitalise on our environment in a way that is sustainable and not detrimental to the environment or to human beings. If this is achieved, then the environment would not be a secondary concern to people’s livelihoods and rights. It would be a central concern that, when addressed, would contribute towards the improvement of people’s livelihoods and rights.

What happens if you give a Ghanaian child your camera

by Zoe

As team leader, one of the key skills that I need to use on a day to day basis is delegation. And frankly, I think I’m a pro.

Last week, for example, we were in a village in rural Northern Ghana doing our fieldwork. So I delegated the interviewing to the other team members. Then I delegated photography to a small Ghanaian child who had never used a camera before, and started a slapsies tournament.

Here’s what happens if you give a small Ghanaian child  your camera:

Africa’s rising star

economist.com top GDP growth 2013

The world’s 10 fastest growing economies in 2013. Source: economist.com

by Ben

Take a quick glimpse at any list of the fastest growing economies in the world and you are sure to see Ghana mentioned. Its growth topped 14% in 2012 and is forecast to return to a modest 8% in 2013, the same level as 2011. Ghana is the model of stability in Africa; this has been the base for its economic growth.

Ghana’s economy is powered by a service sector that accounts more than 50% of it’s GDP. It also has strong exports in gold, cocoa and oil. Like so many other countries, it was the start of oil production in 2010 that transformed Ghana into one of Africa’s fastest-growing-economies. The Jubilee field, which is 60km off the coast of Accra, has oil reserves of up to 600 million barrels and produces around 20,000 barrels a day. If targets are met (they haven’t consistently been so far), then the Ghanaian government estimates that oil revenue of more than $650 million will be added to the treasury.

Ghana’s continued growth and political stability have led to an increase in the number of expatriates who are returning home to capitalise on the opportunities now available. Ghana’s economic growth will fuel the growth of its own middle class – young professionals with families and desires for the latest technology and mod-cons. This new class causes the creation of a whole range of businesses to provide the services and products needed to support it – and so the cycle continues. Ghana’s position as the flag bearer for West African growth was seemingly cemented when in 2009 Barack Obama choose Ghana as the first country to visit on his first Presidential visit to Africa. The visit was acclaimed by the current President John Mahama as bringing worldwide attention to Ghana, if just for a moment.

The people we speak to Tamale attest to this change. An increase in the number of cars around the busy city centre, the opening of new bars and nightclubs, the rise of more and more telephone masts all seem to indicate it is happening. But outside of the city, in the rural communities we visit, we are presented with a very different scene. These are farming communities, reliant on a successful harvest, who are yet to reap the rewards of an 8% growth or the discovery of oil hundreds of kilometres away in the south. It is a stark reminder of the low baseline that even a stable like country like Ghana is coming from and the extent of the work still to be achieved.

It is worth noting though despite the scarcity of water, regular droughts in the Northern region and water shortages lasting days, water bills for Ghanaians are roughly £60 per year for access to the resource (15cd a month flat rate regardless of use). In the UK, where we face no such problems and our average rainfall far eclipses that of Ghana, it is expected that water bills will rise to nearly £400 per year for families. If the extra £340 is for knowledge that the water is drinkable (which it is here but it’s the pipes you can’t trust) then I’d rather the Ghanaian system where you can purchase 14litres of drinking water for about 50p, or the cost of one bottle of Volvic. That’s 11900 litres of exclusive drinking water (32 every day for a year) that you can afford on top of all other water costs i.e. baths, showers, toilet etc. Lets be honest I’m probably not going to drink as much as 32 litres every day, so could probably save myself some money. Guess we don’t have it all our own way.

Why educate a girl?

The Comic Relief-funded project that we’re doing an impact assessment on here at RAINS has a huge emphasis on girl child education.

In Northern Ghana, where we live, poverty excludes many girls from education. There are a lot of organisations like RAINS and Camfed that focus on increasing school attendance by girls, and here’s an amazing infographic from US AID which shows why they bother:

US Aid Education Women girls Infographic statistics

3 fish that died

Kenkey with fish, Tamale, Ghana This fish died, dried and then hung around (for probably a bit too long to be hygienic) in a glass cabinet, before being served with our favourite lunchtime staple, kenkey (made of fermented cornmeal).
Groundnut soup banku and fish, Tamale, Ghana This fish unfortunately drowned in my groundnut soup. And was served with banku (which is made with a mixture of fermented corn dough and cassava dough).
Boiled rice, stew, fish, Tamale, Ghana I’m not sure how this fish died, but he wasn’t happy about it.
(Served with plain rice and stew).

Half time, free time

by Ben

The second half of a journey always seems to go faster than the first, doesn’t it? When you meet that milestone, you find the steady incline you were on turns quickly and dramatically into a slippery slope to the end, leaving you wondering where time went. Sometimes the halfway point on a long journey is a moment to celebrate. You can sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that the milestone is behind you and you’re edging ever closer to your destination. In our case we are incredibly aware of the limited time we have left on our project and in the country, so we are now busy planning how best to maximise our remaining 6 weeks.

IMG_4926On the project front, we’ve nearly completed one set of field trips to the Savelugu district which is just north of Tamale. We’ve visited three communities and spoken to some amazing individuals who have been kind enough to give us their time and share their experiences. The open and friendly nature of these communities is in stark contrast to the introverted nature of city life that I am used to in the UK. It’s been fantastic to listen and learn from what they have to say, and what is most humbling is the gregarious nature of the people. They’re happy to give you their time and share what they have with you in the hope that it will allow our charity to come back and benefit not just them, but their community as a whole. 

Ben does his best Bear Grylls impression

Ben does his best Bear Grylls impression

As far as our personal adventures go, we are quite fortunate to be in a more central part of Ghana than some of the other volunteer groups, which gives us easier access to the country. Last weekend, we decided to travel some 200km south to the Brong Ahafo region to find the Kintampo waterfalls. Kintampo has 3 waterfalls and the largest is one of the highest in Ghana; a towering 25 metres. The area itself, although a tourist site, is secluded and hidden by deep forest and vegetation. Inspired by the Bear Grylls boxset I brought with me, we proceeded to climb over and around the smaller waterfalls like the intrepid explorers that we clearly were in another life. That was until Rhogan lost a flip-flop in the water; it disappeared down into the rocks and crevices and never resurfaced.After a quiet vigil we moved onto the main waterfall where you can go swimming in the pool at the bottom. You could really feel the power of the water as you sat underneath it, it was a fantastic experience and one we would definitely recommend – just be sure to arrive early because once the crowds turn up, the experience is very, very different.

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Next weekend all the volunteers will be meeting again in Tamale before we head to Mole National Park, one of the main tourist sites in Ghana. There we hope to see elephants, baboons, monkeys and all manner of creatures all the while sleeping under the stars (and mosquito nets) in a tree house that overlooks a watering hole frequented by elephants. Needless to say we’re very excited and hope to have many more experiences in our remaining 6 weeks with so much of Ghana yet to be seen.

Flip or flop?

We didn’t think that we could let pancake day pass by unnoticed this week… unfortunately, we had to improvise somewhat as we couldn’t find normal wheat flour, milk that wasn’t in a can, or a non-stick frying pan.

So we prepared our unique concoctions in a baking tray.

We’ll all be adding ‘adapts well to challenging circumstances’ to our CVs…