World Wetlands Day 2001: Ghana
GHANA: CELEBRATION OF WORLD WETLANDS DAY, 2 February 2001
Beautifully painted banners with the theme "Wetland world A world to discover" started flying at vantage places of the capital city of Ghana, Accra and major communities within all the five coastal Ramsar Sites two weeks to 2 February 2001. This marked the beginning of awareness raising on wetlands toward the celebration of 30 years of work and progress worldwide by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and 12 years of formal wetlands work in Ghana.
The Ramsar Administrative Authority, Wildlife Division of Forestry Commission, had usually marked the day with press conferences. This years celebration was, however, much more intensified and involving with the view to providing a wider coverage than ever before. The day was marked with press briefing, poster exhibition and bird watching at the Sakumo Ramsar site, one of the five coastal Ramsar Sites in Ghana. Over two hundred people, including information searching media personnel, city planners and authorities, traditional leaders, environmental volunteers, representatives from diplomatic missions and school children converged at the Site to share in the celebration.
A number of environmental NGOs, including, Conservation International (Ghana), Ghana Wildlife Society, Green Earth Organization and League of Environmental Journalists actively collaborated and participated in the planning and celebration of the day. The Coca-Cola Bottling Company (Ghana) Limited sponsored this years activities. Media publicity on the significance of the World Wetlands Day was high before and after 2 February 2001. These included serialized feature articles, press releases and news commentaries on wetlands.
Radio and TV stations put up a number of discussion programmes in the major local languages on the importance of wetlands and the need for their conservation. Resource persons in the TV discussion programmes were not limited to wetland managers and technocrats alone. The Chief Priest, known in Ga language as Numo Wulomo whose ancestral fathers impose ban on fishing in the Sakumo lagoon between November - March each year within the Sakumo Ramsar Site, was instrumental in the noise making of the day. He was given a 30-minute air time on a national television station to explain the rational behind the traditional ban on fishing and the importance his forefathers attached to wetlands. The result was far reaching for the local people as it consolidates the incorporation of the close season into a local bye-law now being developed.
One significant thing about this years Wetlands Day was a partnership agreement reached, in principle, between the Wildlife Division and Conservation International (Ghana) for the development of the Sakumo Ramsar Site into a creative eco-tourism destination in Ghana. The site is about 15 kilometers drive from the central Accra. This is to demonstrate that wetlands can contribute to the socio-economic development of the nation and would assist, particularly, decision-makers and urban planners to appreciate the importance of wetlands conservation. It will also make them recognize wetlands as a form of land-use and accord them the needed place in national land use issues in Ghana.
Wetlands conservation is increasingly becoming significant in Ghana as more people, particularly, the rural dwellers derive their lively support from wetland resources. Unfortunately, the century long perception of wetlands as filthy, useless places that had to be drained and converted into something "more useful" still lingers on. Every day more wetland areas and their concomitant resources are being degraded by way of pollution, reclamation and resource over-exploitation in Ghana.
In the coastal areas where five wetland areas have been designated as Ramsar Sites, the actions of the Division over the years have succeeded in changing the negative attitudes and practices of people regarding the use of wetlands. Yet, as with all other habitats, on many occasions, the temptation is still strong to destroy wetland resources or convert them to other uses that may give very rapid and substantial economic returns in the short term. The Division thus intensified the awareness to increase sensitization of society about the importance of wetlands during this years World Wetlands Day.
It is, however, not enough celebrating the day with trumpets on highlights of progress made and going silent at other times of the year. It is also not enough developing policies, legislation, strategies, action plans and management plans for wetlands. The Ramsar Administrative Authority in Ghana believes that it additionally, requires a year round education and awareness raising with peak activity on 2 February each year. This will provide a significant progress in understanding better the importance of conserving wetlands as part of land-use planning at all levels of the Ghanaian society.
Yes, in response to the noise made during the World Wetlands Day, and thereafter, more people keep calling to discover what there is in the Ramsar Sites we talked about. The Ramsar Convention could not have chosen a better theme for this years Wetlands Day other than Wetlands world A world to discover!
The general expectation is that the awareness will ensure a long-term ecological viability of the wetlands and encourage economic development activities that are compatible with the maintenance of the wetland ecosystems. This will make wetlands in Ghana provide continuous benefits for the livelihood of communities living within and around wetland areas.
C. C. AMANKWAH,
WETLANDS CONSERVATION PROGRAMMES
WILDLIFE DIVISION (Forestry Commission)