Conservation activists led by A ROCHA Ghana, demanding that the Atewa Range Forest Reserve should be excluded from mining and left as a protected area, have taken their “Save Atewa” campaign to another level. They have held the first ever exhibition to raise the conservation profile of Atewa. The four-day event took place in Accra from Wednesday January 30 to Saturday, February 2, 2019.
The theme for the exhibition, “Securing Atewa for Prosperity and Wellbeing beyond Today,” was a reminder to Ghanaians that the continuous existence of Atewa as a Reserve, holds the promise of prosperity and security. The organisers believe this promise does not lie in the mining of its bauxite deposits, as the government intends to, but rather in its exceedingly rich biodiversity resources.
Located in Ghana’s Eastern Region, Atewa Range Forest Reserve is by no means an ordinary protected area. In terms of biodiversity composition, it is said to possess a species richness that is far higher for most classes of organisms than is known for most forests in Ghana. This includes a plant richness of over 1100 species, accounting for 26 % of the country’s entire flora; 77 % of Ghana’s butterfly species; and is home to more than 30 % of the nation’s bird species. Some of which are endemic and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Atewa is also famed for being the watershed for three key rivers namely the Densu on which the Weija Dam is built as it meanders into the coastal environs, the Ayensu and Birim. Together, these rivers provide water to about five million Ghanaians in the Eastern, Central and Greater Accra regions.
And despite the encroachment on portions of the Reserve, first by illegal loggers and then by illegal miners or “galamsey” operators following earlier mineral prospecting activities, the Atewa Range Forest Reserve, is largely still one of the remaining blocks of pristine forests in Ghana, virtually undisturbed. It is one of Ghana’s 34 Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas and among the nation’s 36 Important Bird Life Areas (IBLA).
The international and national importance of Atewa lies in the interlinkages of its biodiversity, which provide the basis that supports human life and well-being. Therefore, the ‘Save Atewa,” campaign is purposely to halt any activity whether legal or illegal that has the potential to eventually destroy the Reserve, it resources and the ecological services it is providing.
The “Save Atewa,” exhibition comes after a year of active campaign in and outside Ghana for Atewa to be left unmined. The exhibition consisted of various poster images of some of the endemic life forms at Atewa and the ecosystem services it provides; a banner depicting a compilation of people’s sentiments about the Reserve and a video clip highlighting the area’s importance.
Spectators at the exhibition were mainly from partner institutions and allies including the Royal Netherlands Embassy; USAID; A ROCHA International; Ghana Wildlife Society; Friends of the Earth, Ghana; International Union for the Conservation of Nature; Forest Services Division, the Christian Council of Ghana, members of schools Wildlife Clubs and students of some second cycle institutions. Also in attendance were some members of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation.
Speakers at the formal opening, were unanimous in their call for Atewa to be upgraded from a forest reserve to a National Park.
The National Director of A ROCHA Ghana, Dr. Seth Appiah-Kubi, proposed that “Atewa Forest be upgraded to a National Park with a supporting buffer zone.” He explained that such a measure, will not only secure its vast water resources and rich biodiversity, but lead to economic rejuvenation in the area. “It will help deliver sustainable jobs and livelihoods for many people as part of a living landscape that can provide new economic opportunities.”
Dr. Appiah-Kobi was of the view that there is still room to negotiate on the issue of excluding Atewa from the planned bauxite exploration. He declared: “We are aware and mindful of the need for economic development for our country, but we are also aware that safeguarding important critical ecosystems and the natural environment in general, are key elements in achieving sustainable development for any country.”
Dr. Francis Emmanuel Awotwi of Concerned Citizens of Atewa, urged government to break its silence on Atewa by making public, its final decision, saying, “we have waited for too long.”
The Executive Director of the Ghana Wildlife Society, Eric Lartey, affirmed the position of the GWS on the issue of bauxite mining at Atewa. In an interview, he stated: “Our position is clear, Atewa must be expunged from the areas that government is considering to mine bauxite, because of its fragility and the important ecosystem services it provides.”
The Deputy Ambassador of the Royal Netherlands Embassy, Madam Katjia Lasseur, who opened the exhibition, said her country is happy to be associated with the efforts to secure forests and protected areas in Ghana where most watersheds are inhabited. This is because safeguarding watersheds will ensure there is a reliable source of safe drinking water. Therefore, the Embassy, under the Ghana-Netherlands WASH Programme (GNWP), recently supported advocacy on the preservation of Atewa Forest to make it a National Park.
Ms. Lasseur pledged her country’s support to the Ghana beyond aid agenda. The support will come through “the market-based development options that are nature based, nature enhancing and nature supportive.”
The occasion was also used to launch a research report titled: ‘The Biodiversity of Atewa Forest.” It was launched by the Chairman of the Board of A ROCHA Ghana, Prof. Alfred Oteng-Yeboah. He said the 88-page publication “should provide a base-line information to support policy formulation, especially in the larger nexus of climate change, biodiversity and land degradation to reflect forestry, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, agriculture and land use options related to mining.”
The report was co-authored by eight specialists from institutions in Ghana, the UK and Germany. The authors included Dr. Jeremy Lindsell, Director of Science and Conservation at A ROCHA International. He attended the exhibition and, in an interview, confirmed the richness of the reserve’s biodiversity, saying, “it is not just a few plants here and there, but is really a range of diversity of life, each distinct in their own way.” Therefore, “the report demonstrates the need to keep and not to loss Atewa,” he added.
As part of the ‘Save Atewa” campaign, the A ROCHA and its partners have mounted a huge bill board near the Jubilee House – the seat of the Government of Ghana.
By Ama kudom-Agyeamng