News / 23 November 2012

Report from Ghana: 'the pothole experience'

Driving the Ugandan roads two months ago, Allan (who wortks with Ugandan organisation NAPE) came up with a wonderful idea to promote tourism to Uganda and add a special exiting and adventurous feature to it. “What”, he told me, “if we would hire an amphibious car and do the Pothole Experience. We load the car with tourists and drive at selected Ugandan roads along the potholes in the road and disappear in the biggest ones at one side and come up at the other side. As an encore we could ultimately experience a water filled pothole, dive into it with the car and see if we manage to come out the water at the other side. If not, we at least had a wonderful time in the previous potholes!”

It was a funny, imaginative story, but driving along the Ghanaian roads I thought back to this encounter two months ago. At that time I had organized a successful two-day workshop in Kampala and now I prepared for a similar CoC workshop in Ghana. I travel together with my guide and friend Dr. Adansi to environmentally interesting sites, while encircling abundant smaller and bigger potholes in the roads. We are in Atiwa District near the township of Kwabeng. Still more worrying is another type of potholes which I observe along the road. 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 the surface water of the Birim River, source of drinking and household water of the nearby villages. It must undoubtedly have its effect on the groundwater, another source of drinking water. The mining is done in an uncontrolled way by villagers and by people coming from other areas. Although illegal by law no serious attempt is made by the authorities to avoid this kind of activities. Only from time to time police and military actions take place, but afterwards the people just return to resume their devastating work. But the miners are clearly on the look-out for trouble. If we approach them a number of women line up towards us as a barrier for the other workers. “They think we are military”, explained Adansi, pointing to my cap. Soon however they understand that we are not the authorities, and they show us around on the spot.


Water ponds and mosquitoes
Most worrying is the fact that after 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, that's why malaria is still a major health threat. At all the places we visited only at one site some poor attempt was made to level the area and do some reforestation.


Commissioners, chiefs and village-elders
To explain about and to raise support for our plans to improve the water and sanitation situation in the Kwabeng area, we paid visits to a number of authorities. 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 a period of two days we visited the community elders of Kwabeng, the MP (Member of Parliament) for the Atiwa Constituency, the District Commissioner (DC) of Atiwa District and a prominent Chief as representative of the Chieftaincy. This was all made possible by the influential position of Dr. Adansi, but left a big impression on me. Some experience to start my (first) visit to Ghana!


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