“We’re on a quest to convey the kind of message we want to Ghanaians,” said Benjamin Bentil, long-time conservation advocate and post-harvest specialist in Accra. “People have no regard for the ecology,” Benjamin described. “They never saw the importance of protecting it.” While Ghana is now a stable, peaceful country with a democratic government, its cities are rapidly losing their green spaces, or “eco zones”, to rapid development and pollution. Bentil used to work with cocoa farmers on respecting forest reserve land, and now he’s using his background to fight for the preservation of ecologically vital land in the big city.
Greater Accra has a current population of over 4 million people, making it the 11th-largest metropolitan region in Africa and creating lots of land use and development pressures. Accra’s last “greenbelt”, the Achimota Forest, used to be an area of 500 hectares, but has been reduced by 30% due to development and waste disposal. The nearby Shai Hills Resource Reserve, which houses monkeys, antelope, and other wildlife, is being threatened by real estate development, on top of being nearly wiped out by a wildfire last year. “If we don’t do something about the current situation,” Bentil reflected, “We will lose the green.”
On June 3rd, 2015, an unforgettable event made many Ghanaians change their minds. Korle Lagoon is a dumping ground in Accra, and it has been heavily polluted to the point of losing all its green space. In a huge storm, the city of Accra was flooded partially due to poor drainage from Korle Lagoon. At Kwame Nkrumah Circle, the water flowed past a Shell gas station with leaky valves, so gasoline ended up in the water and caught on fire when someone dropped a cigarette. The explosion killed 151 people.
Bentil echoed the sentiment that this tragic event put ecological restoration higher on Ghana’s priority list: “Over 150 people lost their life to our negligence, so now it’s catching on.” And there is hope. The Korle Lagoon Ecological Restoration Project is working to restore the lagoon to its former ecological state so that it can safely and reliably handle heavy rains. The Ghanaian government is trying harder to “crack down” on fuel stations without permits, so that fuel stations are only in safe places out of the way of major floodplains. And there are plans to turn the Achimota Forest into an Eco Park to preserve the land and introduce some ecotourism activities there.
Benjamin Bentil has a clear vision for communicating the importance of conservation to the people of Ghana. So far, he has held informal meetings with local authorities, but wants to “make [the] activities more formal”, formulate strategies for advocacy and education, and reach out to schools and other local organizations. “Now that we are facing the consequences of our negative actions towards eco zones, government agencies are going to take action,” Bentil expressed. “The future is bright.”
Emma Hutchinson is a communications specialist for WILD Cities and a Stanford University student currently contributing from Madrid, Spain.
Benjamin Bentil is a project catalyst for WILD Cities in Accra, Ghana.
Aerial photo of Osu district of Accra, Ghana from Creative Commons.