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Climate Change Furthers Desertification in Northern Africa’s Golden Coast

// by Francis Npong, Ghana

The kind of ecological calamity that sent Ethiopia and Sunden’s Darfur from relative food sovereignty to food scarcity is here with us in Ghana, as Sahara Desert has continued to turn the Northern part of Ghana into wasteland and marches violently and unstoppably southwards.

Northen Ghana, desertification. Photo: Elena Craescu
Northen Ghana, desertification. Photo: Elena Craescu

According to environmental expert Thomas Ayamga, about 35% of the total land mass of the country has already been turned into semi desert and that climate change has advanced desert in an already fragile regions, the Upper East, Upper West and Northern Regions, which together constitute about 40% of the total land mass of the country. Mr. Ayamaga who spoke to said in an interview recently said this part of the country also has the highest temperatures ranges from 20 degrees Celsius to 41 degrees Celsius with unpredicted rain patterns.

Already an estimated 8.2 million hectares of the closed forest of the country have been depleted as a result of farming; logging and sand wining leaving a current level estimated at 1.9 to 2.0 million hectares of wood logs, he said. He said the impact of climate change has furthered desertification in the region and that if the situation is reverse the temperature in the region might become warmer that could trigger climate related illnesses such Cibro Spinal Manigitis (CMS) and malaria infections. “Climate change has made farming unattractive and rainfall erratic.

The only most immediate solution for agriculture at this moment is intensive irrigation”, he suggested. He said agriculture which is the mainstay of the people in these parts of the country remained dormant for the past two years and that flooding, and drought being experienced is all related to climate change. “Agriculture which is the mainstay of the people had been rendered profitless venture and unattractive to young ones, hence their movement to southern regions in search for non existing pastures”, he said. He said urban slums are one social problems caused by these internal migrants driven out of their place as a result of climate change and global warming.

Mr. Ayamga, a former staff of Ministry of Agriculture (MOFA) and currently works as agriculture consultant said agriculture and water are sectors that have been seriously affected by the changes in climatic conditions in the north. Climate change he said has worsened the plight of already stricken farmers compounding the problem of poverty and communicable and non-communicable illnesses such as malaria, diarhorea etc. Documents at the Department of Forestry indicated for example that, in 1998, the total estimated annual loss due to environmental degradation amounted to GH¢41.7 thousand, representing 4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country.

The three northern regions which fall under the savannah zone cover 55% of the country’s land mass in 1972 and had been expanded to 58.1% by 2000. Documents stated that the forest cover of northern zone constituted about 41,600km in 1952, which represent about 46% of the total land area of the three regions, but the unregulated exploitation of these resources to meet the economic needs of the growing population of the people and livestock have reduced the forest cover to semi-desert and wasteland. Desertification which was recognized as taking place and bigger environmental issue on global scale has not been given the needed attention it deserves. Climate change and global warming is furthering desertification in Ghana.

The UN conference on desertification in 1977 in Nairobi and later in 1994, the UN convention to combat desertification was opened for ratification by countries in which Ghana in 1996, December 27, ratified the convention but had failed to implement the needed environmental intervention to reverse the desert. Several factors were responsible for the desertification and deforestation in northern Ghana. The regions carry about 80% of the nation’s livestock,74.4%, Northern region 43.4% and Upper East 36.5%.

An area of with a low rainfall between 645mm and 1250mm per annum and a long dry period of six to seven months and without irrigated grazing lands the consequence of this high livestock population has put pressure on the limited land resources, which sometimes generated conflicts between the owners of the livestock and farmer lands. The rampant and uncontrollable bush burning for the purpose of either farming or hunting has been a constant culture of the people in these parts of the country and this had destroyed limited organic matter suitable for crop production hence food scarcity, hunger and starvation and increased poverty level. A sizeable number of trees are felt every day for the purposes of charcoal burning or firewood and construction works have also aided the speedy advance of desertification and deforestation in the north.

The effects of desert encroachment in the Northern Ghana are alarming. Changes of rainfall patterns and climate in recent times have devastated the lands leaving several kilometres of scorched farmlands, leaner livestock, dried dams, and rivers impoverishing the population. Already, poverty, hunger, diseases and unemployment have begun to force hundreds of the youth from Upper East, West and Northern regions to urban centers as a result of the loss of agricultural farm lands to desert encroachment, turning the marginal area of the regions into wastelands-climate change is to blame for this.

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