Sunday afternoon on January 24, 2021, a white tipper-truck loaded with concrete debris from a demolished structure was heading in the direction of the Sakumo Ramsar Protected Area in Tema. It was a good enough signal to follow it. It eventually got to the edge of the natural water course of the wetlands. With the help of an assistant, the truck tipped the debris into the swampy section.

It was obvious that this was one of many trips by the tipper-truck. Sadly, they were simply playing their part in the destruction of the Ramsar Site. Sadly, it will be reasonably accurate to assume that the Tema Ramsar Site is now beyond restoration.

You can make a lot of money burning fossil fuels, digging up wetlands, pumping fossil water out of aquifers that will take 10,000 years to recharge, overfishing species in international waters that are close to collapse and so on – Ramez Naam

Ramez Naam is an American adjunct professor born in Egypt who teaches energy, environment and innovation related themes. His quote about the human impact and restoration of our natural resources and environment applies to Tema as it does to many more places around Ghana and the rest of the world. Today we are drilling so many boreholes for water and filling up wetlands to build houses without a detailed assessment of the impact of these destructive actions. I have seen this phenomenon all over urban areas especially in Accra and Tema. The most worrying areas are in Dansoman near Pambros and Sakumo Ramsar Protected Area. Our Ramsar sites are under serious threat and authourities must simply arrest this.

Ramsar Sites

Ramsar Sites are simply identified wetland areas designated to be of environmental importance under the Ramsar Convention. This treaty was signed in Ramsar in Iran in 1971 and became effective in 1975. Ghana signed the Ramsar Convention on February 22, 1988. The Ramsar Convention describes the wetlands as “areas of marsh, fen, peat land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh brackish or slat, including areas of marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters”. Some Ramsar Protected areas include estuary of the Volta, Pra and Ankobra, the Songor and Korle Lagoons.

The significance of this was that our beloved country, agreed together with the enlightened international community, to promote the conservation of wetlands and wise sustainable use of their resources. In 1999, a National Wetlands Conservation Strategy was enacted to guide the management of these internationally recognized ecosystems. Governments and Local communities were to lead in the protection of these Ramsar Sites. As we do best in Ghana, we have thrown this strategic document on the shelf to collect dust, taken Earth Moving Equipment and now ensuring that habitat of birds, other fauna and flora and the ecosystem is destroyed. In place we have buildings which has a worse effect on the environment.

Wetlands helps maintain the water table and even feeds into aquifers. They also prevent flooding and reduce incidence of erosion. This special ecosystem helps in the purification of water and therefore enhance and sustains aquatic life. In many surrounding areas of wetlands there is a micro-climate that is usually calming and as a habitat for many bird species. In a lot of such local communities there are deities that ensures that certain cultural and traditional rites are performed.

The Tema Ramsar site separates Sakumono settlement and the formal Tema Settlement. It spans from the southern parts of residential communities which is on the east side of Tema; Communities 3, 5, 6, 10, 11 and 12. All these residential areas is continuously experiencing massive boundary shifts and encroachment of this natural waterway. Both sides of the Ramsar site is being eaten up by new developments every day by residential and non-residential projects. The two sources of water course are gradually constricted so there is basically no water in the Sakumo Lake. The implication to the Ramsar Site as well as the buildings being put up is a source of worry.

Who is responsible for the destruction of Sakumo Ramsar Site?

The destruction of the Ramsar is, at the highest level, symptomatic of poor coordination of institutions and the general attitude of “not in my back yard” (NIMBY). The key institution to cite are the Game and Wild Life Division of the Forestry Commission, The TDC Development Company Ltd, Tema Metropolitan Assembly and the Environmental Protection Agency. Their actions and inactions are what has resulted in the destruction of the Sakumo Ramsar Protection Area in Tema.

The citizens of Tema look on without any significant expression of indignation as this happens. That is symptomatic of Ghanaians. We look on as things happen. Public asset ownership is seen as not belonging to anyone. The fragmented ownership philosophy results in nobody showing clear ownership. So, as the Ramsar site is being invaded in this manner, leadership at both the local and institutional level is just lethargic. Shocking!!

Questions need to be asked of our agencies responsible for the destruction of the Sakumo Ramsar Protected Area:

·        Who is giving out these lands to be built on?

·        Is there any development control going on in these areas by the TMA and TDC Dev Co. Ltd?

·        Who ensures that the Sakumo Ramsar Protected Area is not encroached on?

·        Who are those building in this area?

·        Do these developers have Planning and Building Permission?

·        Have those developers carried out any Environmental Impact Assessment?

·        What is the mitigation of the impact of this destruction?

·        Would anyone listen to these questions and attempt to give any explanation?

What is the impact of the destruction of the Sakumo Ramsar Site

Two satellite images of the Ramsar Sites of the area around the estuary of the Sakumo Ramsar Protected site shows how so much land is being filled for construction of various structures; residential buildings and container yards especially. The least distance between two buildings around the outflow in 2003 measured approximately 2,150 meters. This has now reduced to 1,650 meters. There are been a reduction of about 500 meters. This is about the length of 5 football fields. This data is just the tip of the iceberg.

As the area reserved for the outflow of water from uphill is constricted, the effect will be dire. The effect of these developments would result in flooding of settlements upstream i.e., areas to the north of the Sakumo Ramsar Protected Area. The areas that could be affected include Klagon, Ashaiman, areas around the motorway stretch and eventually the areas near Ashaiman underpass and Dunkornaa Affordable Housing.

At the micro level, the structures being developed in these areas would have some challenges when occupied. First and foremost, this area is not planned to be on the Tema Central Sewerage System. This simply means that individual septic tanks need to be constructed. Due to the soggy nature of this site, septic tanks would have to be constructed with reinforced concrete with an almost non-functioning soak-away. This results in a much higher frequency of dislodging. Also, the Sakumo lake should be protected from direct sewerage disposal. This can easily happen if Sewerage Systems is not properly designed and executed.

Again, the filling of sites should be engineered properly and competently. Waterlogged sites need to be excavated and stabilized with boulders of relatively large average diameters. This ensures that there is a reduction of capillary action. That is simply the reduction of the ability for water to rise so that subterranean drainage is ensured. Additionally, foundations of these structures essentially have to be designed to minimize settlement (the movement of buildings generally).

Tema eh!!!…it is a shame. Osagyefo would be weeping in his grave.

God bless our homeland Ghana.