Green spaces made up of tree cover, grass, and parks in Ghana’s capital, Accra, have reduced drastically in the last two decades.
The situation poses serious health implications for the residents according to a new study titled: “Socio-demographic and neighbourhood factors influencing urban green space use and development at home”.
The study noted that most green spaces had been cleared for real estate development to accommodate the growing population due to the influx of migrants from other regions and neighboring countries.
It said portions of the green spaces had also been used to build road and for other social infrastructure development.
The study was conducted in the Accra Metropolitan Area (AMA) and eleven municipal areas, which were part of the old AMA.
Professor Kofi Amegah, who led the study, told the Ghana News Agency (GNA) that green spaces improved air quality.
Green spaces, he explained, also helped in managing advanced cardiovascular and mental health conditions.
“Green spaces serve as the ‘lung’ that purifies the air we breathe and absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releases oxygen in very large amounts, ” he added.
The depletion of the green spaces in Accra, Prof. Amegah said, was also contributing to flooding in Accra and called for immediate concerted efforts to fix the challenge. .
Mr Desmond Appiah, the Country Lead of the Clean Air Fund and an investigator on the study, told the GNA that, as cities grew, the likelihood of air pollution increased and that was high in Accra, one of Africa’s fastest growing cities.
The annual average pollution level in Ghana in 2019 was 11 times higher than the WHO 2021 recommended levels.
“We have well-crafted environmental and public health policies for addressing the challenge but there is a serious problem with enforcement of these laws and policies. This has occasioned some of these problems. The law must work,” he said.
Per the law, individuals and developers need to have permeable surfaces in all built environments and development where rainwater can sip into the ground and prevent flooding and recharge underground water.
Mr Appiah said, “Places like North Kanashie, Chorkor, Dansoman were well planned with green spaces, with houses having some types of greens used as hedges. Trees were planned and planted in virtually all the houses. These served a purpose for our well-being and prompted liveable environments. ”
“Afrikiko was a green park but it is now left with a very few trees and buildings. Same can be said about the George Padmore Library Area close to the Ridge Church. The green side is virtually no more. Parts of Pambrose wetlands in the Dansoman area are turning into brownfield developments. ”
Mr Appiah said the country needed to rethink its development paradigm, to place health and environmental prudence at its centre , to prevent and stem the worsening health, well-being and socio-economic growth of residents.
Dr Efua Commeh, the Acting Programme Manager for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) at the Ghana Health Service, told GNA that the reduced greens and vegetative cover was exposing people to dust particles from burning waste materials and fumes from exhaust of vehicles.
The dust particles, she explained, were being inhaled resulting in lungs malfunctioning, death, heart diseases, cancer, damage to nerves, brain, kidneys, liver, and other organs of the body.
Dr Commeh stated that records from health facilities and research conducted by scientists revealed a growing trend in some types of cancers, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease conditions.
“Many more people in Accra are at high risk of developing these diseases due to the shrinking green spaces. There is enough evidence of an increasing rate of respiratory disease. The rise is steep especially from the 2010 through to today, 2023,” she said.
Dr Commeh said it was affecting the productive workforce that generated income to take care of their families, adding that “people are losing productive hours on admission to recuperate or attend reviews”.
She said it was not only a loss at the personal level, but the economy because, “the more people get sick, the more the economy suffers in terms of productivity”.
The annual nationwide pollution cost to Ghana is estimated at $2.5 billion (approximately 4.2 per cent of GDP) by the World Bank.
The World Health Organisation reports that air pollution caused about 28,000 deaths from Non-Communicable Diseases, such as ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer in 2019 in Ghana and over one million deaths in Africa. Over 18,000 of these estimated deaths are from Accra.
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