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.


…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



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.

Plastic fantastic?

by Zoe

It’s fair to say that some of my favourite things in life have been plastic, starting at the age of two with Baby Talk, a doll which did indeed talk, coming out with phrases such as “I like to be picked up,” “turn me over” and “more, more!” I don’t know what my parents were thinking, but I loved her. Then there was my Gameboy at the age of 8, the red plastic belt I adored as a teenager… the list goes on.

So I should feel at home here in Tamale, because if there’s one thing you can’t avoid here, it’s plastic.

Go to any restaurant. Take a seat. It’s probably plastic. Order your meal, and the plate it comes on will most likely be plastic. Want some water with that? It’ll be in a plastic sachet. A takeaway? Yep, you got it, you’ll be given the meal wrapped in two layers of plastic bag.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see the appeal (apart from having no clue where to start when handed a bag full of takeaway coffee or stew). Plastic is cheap and cheerful and difficult to break. But here’s where the problem lies: although there have been appeals to make biodegradable additives in plastics mandatory, many of the plastic items produced in Ghana are not recyclable.

But even if they were, there are no recycling facilities available. There aren’t even waste facilities. You can walk miles in Tamale without finding a single rubbish bin, which means that it’s pretty standard practice to chuck rubbish onto the street, into the gutter, or just into a nearby field. 1,980 tonnes of plastic waste are produced every day in Ghana, 70% of which ends up in drains or open spaces. Add the harmattan winds to the mix, and suddenly, rubbish is EVERYWHERE.

plastic waste chicken rubbish plastic bags Ghana Africa

Which came first, the chicken or the bag?

But there are signs that times are changing. In October, the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology launched a pilot recycling project that will be rolled out in the ministries and in time extended to schools, universities and households. The following month, the same ministry launched the Plastic Waste Management Awareness Creation and Public Education Programme (rolls off the tongue…), which sets out to educate the public and incentivise them to recycle and find alternatives for plastic use.  According to the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), GHS1,200,000 (around £400,000) per month, as well as thousands of jobs, could be generated in Ghana from the sale of plastics for recycling.

And in the meantime, on a smaller scale, schemes like RECNOWA’s Handmade Plastic Recycling Initiative are already turning plastic waste into fashion products like laptop bags and wallets.

Baby Talk would only have one response to initiatives like these: ‘more, more!’

Just chilling…

by Zoe

old fridge tamale ghana

Rusty old fridges will soon be a thing of the past in Ghana…

Tolu mentioned the other day that our house is somewhat lacking in facilities. Well, for those of you worrying about my well-being (hi mum), the good news is that we’ve now got a fridge!

The even better news is that our fridge is brand new. If we’d moved here a few weeks earlier, it might not have been, as a new law was passed on 1 January which bans the import of second-hand refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners. Ghana is the first country in Africa to introduce such regulation.

In addition, a new Refrigerator Rebate and Exchange Scheme offers incentives of up to GHC200 (around £70), as well as credit facilities for the remaining cost, for Ghanaians who trade in existing fridges with new ones.  As at 10 January, 800 used refrigerators had already been turned in under the scheme.

Currently, the average Ghanaian refrigerator consumes 1200kWh of energy per year – whereas energy efficient versions consume around 250kWh. It is expected that the rebate scheme will save around 216MWh of electricity per year for the country –equivalent to half of the electricity that will be produced by the Bui hydro-electric dam when completed.

The other advantage to getting a new fridge instead of a second-hand one is that it comes in a cardboard box. And it turns out that cardboard is surprisingly comfortable to sit on, when compared to the floor…

Chilling on our reclining chairs...

Chilling on our reclining chairs…