Saturday, October 13, 2007
SUSTAINABLE TOURISM – AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE ATEWA BAUXITE?
There was, many years ago, a “trotro” bus that did business between Zongo Junction and Nkrumah Circle in Accra. It had the inscription “Water is Life”. Currently, Polytank’s advert on some buses in the city also carries the same inscription.
If this is true then the ATEWA RANGE near Kyebi, is giving life to about 30 percent of the people in Ghana. I am referring to all the people who live near the Ayensu, Densu, Birim and Pra rivers.
Except the Pra River, the other three rivers take their sources from the Atewa Range. While the Ayensu and Densu flow south into the Atlantic, the Birim decided to make a long detour north and southwest before emptying into the Pra. The Birim, which flows through all the three Akyem traditional areas, has once been very rich in diamonds.
Many towns and villages depend on these rivers for drinking water, irrigation and industry. Koforidua, Nsawam, West Accra, Swedru and Oda are some of the major towns. Large quantities of fresh water fish are caught from these rivers.
The Atewa-Atwirebu Forest Reserve, also on the Atewa Range, has over 150 different species of ferns. Two of these are never found anywhere in the world. In his inaugural lecture delivered on April 30, 1970, at the University of Ghana, Legon, G. W. Lawson, then Professor of Botany, explained that those types of ferns “grow in some of the little valleys that ran down the sides of the Atewa Ranges of mountains near Kyebi.
“They grow in special conditions of high humidity along stream banks where thousands of years of constantly flowing water has cut deep protection ravines”.
Apart from the tree ferns, the Reserve also boasts of a butterfly sanctuary which include the Paillo Antimachus, one of Africa’s largest. Of the about 900 species of butterflies in Ghana, 700 are found in the Atewa Range alone. There are also 40 species of snakes.
The Atewa Range is located in the Eastern Region. The traditional capital of Akyem Abuakwa, Kyebi, and the SOS Village town of Asiakwa are located on the east of the Range. Kwabeng and Akyem Akropong are on the western fringes.
It is believed that the discovery of large quantities of bauxite in the Atewa Range in 1914 was the propelling reason for the British to plan to build a dam on the Volta River to get enough electrical power to process the bauxite into aluminum. But the raging World War I, did not offer a convenient atmosphere to undertake the project. For the second time, the project was put on hold in 1938 as a result of the Second World War.
And when Kaiser Engineers re-appraised the project in 1958, it recommended the building of a smelter at Tema which should use imported alumina instead of processing the Atewa bauxite. Since then the excuse for not mining the bauxite has been lack of sufficient electric power to process it.
On national television the other day, was a news item on work being done in the Range to pave way for large scale mining of the Atewa bauxite. It is a fact that mining will create employment opportunities for many people. Individuals and the country will gain economically. There will be many “developments” in the Akyem Abuakwa traditional area. But is this good news? No, it is very bad news.
Many years ago, most people thought diamond mining was moving the country forward. But the uncontrolled diamond mining has left death traps in the Akwatia and other areas. How much did the towns and villages in diamond-rich Birim valley get? Let us visit Prestea and other areas where mining has been done and assess the positive vis-à-vis; the negative effects.
As already mentioned, the Atewa Range is the source of three major rivers. The range has think forests that have protected the source of these rivers and streams over the centuries. Bauxite is not oil that would be drilled. Large tracts of forest would have to be removed to get to the bauxite. This would definitely affect the various streams and by the time we are aware, many towns and villages that depend on these rivers would be facing water problems.
During a study tour to Ghana in May 2004, a group of students from North Carolina State University (NCSU), Raleigh, U.S.A., interviewed a diverse set of people to seek their views on local forest management and benefits they perceived from forest services. Seventy-five percent of the respondents saw the positive link between forests and water supply. Prof. Lawson also noted 36 years ago, that conservation of forest was closely linked to the conservation of water.
He mentioned that there was evidence from other parts of the world which showed that when forests are removed, the rainfall may be reduced so forest may conserve water in a further way by influencing the climate. Ask the Volta River Authority of their views.
Sixty-three percent of the respondents interviewed by NCSU group recognized that the forest contributes to the development and promotion of tourism on a sustainable basis.
Most readers are already aware of the benefits a country can derive from eco-tourism. We are also aware of the efforts the private sector is making in the development and promotion of tourism.
The Atewa Range has one of the most beautiful forests in Ghana. It is very near Accra, the entry point for many foreign travelers. The Range and its surrounding villages have all the ingredients to be developed into a major sustainable tourism destination.
Sustainable tourism refers to a broad range of recreational activities in a natural environment and for a longer term of economic benefit. In most studies, sustainable tourism has been referred to as ecotourism.
Ecotourism has identified niche markets. The International Eco-Tourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas which conserve the environment”. It is a nature-based form of specialty travel. According to the World Tourism Organisation, while tourism has been growing generally, ecotourism and all nature-related forms of tourism account for approximately 20 percent of total international travel.
In view of this, a growing number of countries have come to depend on ecotourism as a source of foreign exchange. Recognising its global importance, the United Nations designated 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism.
Ecotourism, if properly planned and managed, can be a viable source of economic benefits for government, private entrepreneurs and local communities alike. Furthermore, it can serve as an effective tool for the conservation of natural and cultural assets. There are evidences in many emerging economics that ecotourism has contributed to conservation and economic wellbeing.
Local ecotourism creates jobs that directly depend on a health environment and can motivate people to protect their surroundings as the people of Gbledi Gborgame and Liati Wote, in the Hohoe District, have done with the Afadjato Conservation Project. People who earn their living from ecotourism are more likely to protect their natural resource against more destructive activities such as logging and mining.
In conclusion, I wish to share Prof. G. W. Lawson’s advice with you: “When the last tonne of bauxite has been scraped off and the mountains are left bare, that will be the end of a non-resource; but if the forest is left it could provide a tourist attraction forever. Those in authority over such matters might well pause a little before they decide to sell their tourist industry birthright for a mess of bauxite.”
The Ghanaian Times Saturday, October 13, 2007 Page: 7