Blog / 26 November 2012

The Pothole Experience

The Pothole Experience

It was a funny, imaginative story, and driving on the Ghanaian roads reminds me of this encounter in Uganda. I am in Ghana to prepare a workshop in the Atiwa District near the township of Kwabeng. Together with my guide and friend dr. Adansi, I’m travelling to environmentally interesting sites, while encircling abundant smaller and bigger potholes in the roads. Still more worrying is another type of pothole: we enter the area of “galamsey”.

Illegal gold mining
'Galamsey' is the local word for illegal (gold) mining and has a devastating effect on the landscape. The environment is totally destroyed by the digging and ruined because of the use of chemicals to extract the gold. The extensive erosion and the chemicals are polluting both the groundwater and the surface water and thus affecting the drinking and household water of the nearby villages. The mining is done in an uncontrolled way and even though it is illegal by law, no serious attempts are made to stop it. Only from time to time police and military actions take place, but afterwards the workers just resume their devastating work. Still the miners are clearly on the look-out for trouble. When we approached them a number of women lined up towards us as a barrier for the other workers. “They think we are military”, explained Adansi, pointing to my cap. Soon however they understood that we are not the authorities and showed us around.

Water ponds and mosquitoes
Most worrying is the fact that after the digging the landscape is not restored. It leads to a barren landscape with lots of hillocks and water filled depressions. These ponds are a perfect breeding place for mosquitoes and it is why malaria is still a major health threat. Of all places we visited, only at one site some poor attempts were made to level the area and do some reforestation.

Commissioners, chiefs and village-elders
In accordance with organizing the workshop, we visited a number of authorities, in order to explain and raise support for our plans to improve the water and sanitation situation in the Kwabeng area. Governance structures in Ghana are a complex hybrid system of Westminster style government linked with many semi-autonomous bodies, traditional leaders, and local government structures. In two days we visited the community of Kwabeng, the Member of Parliament for the Atiwa Constituency, the District Commissioner of Atiwa District and a prominent Chief representing the Chieftaincy.


Learning more about the environmental problems that Ghana is facing, and talking with different stakeholders and authorities, left a big impression. It showed me that there is an entrance to talk about these issues and cooperate for a more sustainable future for Ghana. I already look forward to visit Ghana again, but the next time without potholes, please!

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