The Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Kwaku Afriyie says it was time the nation severely punished individuals who fill wetlands or Ramsar sites and erect structures on them.

The phenomenon, he said, resulted in flooding and other negative social repercussions and called on the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, which had the mandate to enforce the law on spatial development planning, to crack the whip.

He cited instances where wetlands in Kumasi were filled for various projects by individuals, noting that some chiefs sold out those areas and called for a national conversation to deal with the situation.

Dr Afriyie made the remarks during a media briefing in Accra when answering a question on encroachment of Ramsar sites in the country.

He said he had held discussions with Mr Daniel Kwaku Botwe, the Local Government Minister, on Ramsar sites encroachment to ensure action was taken to deal with the menace.

Ramsar sites

The Government of Ghana has declared five coastal wetlands to be ‘Ramsar’ sites. This requires the ‘wise use of wetlands of international importance’ for bird habitat, but does not preclude human habitation or ecologically friendly development. The sites are Muni-Pomadze, Densu Delta, Sakumo, Songor and Keta.

Until recently, wetlands were virtually considered as "waste lands" or areas that only served for breeding mosquitoes. As such, in the past, they were dredged to facilitate drainage of the water, reclaimed for other uses, or simply considered as dumping grounds for all types of refuse. Wetlands resources, such as fish, reeds, mangroves and thatch materials were harvested indiscriminately without any attempt to regulate their exploitation.

However, since 1971, when the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention, 1971) came into force, wetlands have been internationally recognised as ecosystems of considerable importance, comparable to forests, rangelands and marine ecosystems.

According to the Minister, the Government of Ghana recognises the importance of wetlands as habitat for wildlife, in the maintenance of the water table, mitigation of flood conditions and water purification.

Failed Initiative

The Government of Ghana, as well as concerned individuals and organisations’ have made several initiatives to address the problem of wetlands management.

Ghana is a party to a number of international conventions which deal with and/or are of relevance to wetlands. However, provisions of these conventions have not been incorporated into national legislation to give them maximum in Ghana.

Several national policies and legislation affect wetlands but these pieces of legislation are scattered throughout the statute books, outmoded and failing to address adequately the problem of wetlands in their entirety. Such policies and laws include the Fisheries Decree (1972), the Land Policy, the Water Resources Act, Ghana Vision 2020 and the Decentralisation Policy.

EPA Warns

Dr Henry Kwabena Kokofu, Executive Director of the Environment Protection Agency, (EPA) has reminded Ghanaians on the need to preserve the integrity of Sakumono Ramsar site for future generation.

Speaking on the encroachment of the Sakumono site, he said “Ghana has many Ramsar site and of key importance is the Sakumono site which has historical antecedent and in this arena of natural resources it cannot be said that, Sakumono wetland has been destroyed in our generation,”.

He said the Sakumono Ramsar Site was among the wetlands that recognized internationally because it was protected by United Nations Conventions which Ghana had signed up to.

Dr Kokofu said the site was used to be a habitat for fishes, water birds and served as a stopover for migrant birds adding that the place was also used for educational and research on biodiversity among others saying that there was the need to value nature in order to promote its conservation for the future.

He indicated that as part of EPA’s mandate to preserve the ecosystem and to secure it for future development, the EPA and other stakeholders since 2014, had been planting coconut along these natural sites for domestic use and had so far harvested about 10,000 pieces.

Dr Kokofu said that any attempt to destroy the site was inimical to the ecosystem saying that “EPA will not sit back and loose the important Ecosystems which provide comfort for mankind to be destroyed few illegal developers”.

He said the major threat to the development of the Ecosystem in the country was the invasion of real estate developers who were illegally selling the lands in the sites to the public adding that measures would be put in place to deal severely with the situation.

He expressed disappointment in some traditional rulers who were part of the natural resource management arm but do not consult any of the Agencies before engaging in illegal sales of the land to the estate developers.

He warned the public to desist from buying lands from people and estate developers which had no legal documentation saying that EPA would collaborate with traditional authorities, the Wildlife, and Forestry Commission to protect the remaining lands from the intruders.