Environmental Awareness-Key to sustainable city planning

A GNA feature by Anthony Bells Kafui Kanyi

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am, living and working in Ho. I only appreciate the opportunity, when I travel to other parts of the country, especially Accra and go through irritating inconveniences.

Ho is not well planned. People build anywhere and sell anywhere, sometimes encroaching on public places such as places designed for markets, schools and gardens.

But the good thing is that the environment appears to be appealing. The town has less noise pollution and fluid traffic, except on market days, when people compete with vehicles for space, but not the type of traffic situation in Accra.

My major concern is the absence of environmental awareness and the seeming conflict between sustainable growth and modern environmental thinking, which is more of a national disease.

Many people perceive sustainable growth or development to be living in gated estates or houses and driving expensive cars.

This is far from it, but very much the ability of humans to use natural resources meaningfully with future generations in mind.

Often, we tend to forget that everything is connected on the planet and go on to disconnect ourselves from nature.

For instance, natural resources such as parks, gardens and green areas are noted to help muffle noise from vehicular traffic and other activities with plants acting as filters for air pollution, but we do not put premium on these facilities.

According to Reverend Prophet Emmanuel Gregory Akpanya, an Independent Priest, man is supposed to live in a garden but the vegetation has been destroyed to the extent that herbs are no longer curative.

The populace is basically out of touch with the environment and only interested in what to eat and put on (dress) forgetting that all these come from the environment.

People are very particular about the neatness and beautification of their houses and living-rooms but do not care about the environment in which those houses are located.

Simply, we do not understand, neither do we know the value and importance of a good environment.

Stretches of water is a valuable resource for recreation and creates an aesthetically appealing environment good for urban landscape and biodiversity.

But interestingly we underutilize such resources, turning most of them into rubbish dumps and consider wetlands as wastelands.

Our city planners largely think about the land area only, leaving water resources, which is an important feature of the urban landscape for outdoor pursuits.

In Ho for instance, most streams are dead due to lack of commitment from city authorities and officers of the Environmental Protection Agency to sustain them.

As a result, many children in the regional capital have not seen a stream or river in real life before neither do they know how pleasurable it is to bathe in a stream.

Housing is another key issue in ensuring sustainable city planning.

The beauty and how well a city is planned, is largely determined by how residential and office accommodations are sited.

In many developed countries, there are strict regulations which guide developers on the type of building allowed at specific areas and the type of building materials, to ensure sustainability.

This is not so with us here. Though there are laws, either they are not enforced or their enforcement is awfully low. People erect structures anywhere.

Currently, the craze is for people especially the rich to establish fuel filling stations on waterways and wetlands.

Our estate developers interestingly have the penchant for clearing green and forested areas for housing, with no recourse to the environment. They build houses that consume so much energy on lighting and air-condition.

They have no plan to re-generate the environment and fail in researching into local building materials such as bamboo, reported to be affordable and sustainable.

People in government and their cronies acquire public places and put up any kind of building.

“Once you know someone in government, you can acquire public land anywhere, even in the yard of the High Court, for personal use,” a land administrator stated.

Though transportation system is crucial to development and sustainable growth, excessive noise and air pollution from our several over aged vehicles is a great concern.

Traffic noise could cause sleep disorders, stress, fatigue, irritations and fluctuations in blood pressure.

Over aged vehicles are also known to release carbon monoxide from exhaust fumes, contributing to the greenhouse effect.

They also release particles into the atmosphere which affect the quality of air. For instance products of combustion, results from wear and tear and fuel spills, end up in the environment.

All these needed to be put into consideration when planning our cities.

In Stockholm, Sweden, city authorities in collaboration with officials from the Environmental Department worked to reduce emissions from traffic by 25% per resident since 1990.

Authorities of that city promoted an increase in the proportion of green vehicles and the use of renewable fuels. They also encouraged the use of public transport, bicycles and walking- more people use public transport, walk or use bicycles.

According to the, “Stockholm Environment Programme 2008-2011,” a person who walks five kilometres to work instead of driving in a conventional petrol-driven car reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about 500kg a year.

The city is planned in such a way that the people relate to nature with a lifestyle that brings together “love of nature, good housing, environmental thinking and lots of culture.”

Our challenge is not insurmountable. Ghana has very brilliant environmental programmes, just that they must be implemented strictly.

The assumption that everybody is aware about environmental cleanliness and protection must be discarded and vigorous communication projects pertaining to the climate and the environment should be made by city authorities.

Basic school children should be the main target for this campaign and made part of the awareness creation crusade.

The district authorities must involve developers, environmental officers and planners in preparing development plans to ensure that cities are planned sustainably with strict adherence to environmental laws.

Parks, gardens and peri-urban natural areas as well as the ecological structure must be incorporated into planning of cities and transportation systems made environmentally friendly with the consideration of cities’ demography.

Private companies and enterprises should be made to think and operate environmentally with some incentives for entities showing commitment to the protection of the environment and its sustainability.

The environment must surely be an election issue. Politicians must tell the electorate their plans on how to sustain the environment and demonstrate practical commitment to making the planet a safe place for the current and future generations. GNA

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