Road is an important infrastructure for the economic development of every country including Ghana but, its construction has a human induced process which negatively affects the environment.
Road construction, like any other building project, depends heavily on sand for filling purposes, mixture of concretes among others, and in the quest to mine the sand, trees and the vegetative cover are destroyed.
Studies have shown that global consumption of sand is estimated to be 400 billion tonnes per year, and since the demand for sand exceeds its supply, sand and gravel extraction threaten the fight against climate change and its associated effects.
Reports say that sand has been mined at rates that exceed natural replenishment, and while 85 to 90 per cent of sand demand is derived from quarries, and sand and gravel pits, the 10 to 15 per cent are extracted from rivers and seashores, giving rise to environmental, economic, and social impacts.
These extractions result in landslides, coastal depletion, soil erosion, threats to freshwater, marine fisheries and aquatic ecosystems, instability of riverbanks leading to increased flooding, and lowering of groundwater levels.
Recent checks by the Ghana News Agency (GNA) along the hills of Essikado-Ketan in the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolis, where some road construction works are ongoing revealed that a part of the once green hilly enclave has been cleared to pave way for the construction works.
The GNA also saw excavation works on some portions of the hills being done to mine the sand for filling purposes on that road and other road construction sites in the Metropolis.
Scientists have highlighted the environmental importance of hills in cloud formation and maintaining rainfall patterns, controlling windstorms, and retaining and recycling water which is captured and supplied to the urban population.
The hills also conserve soil, prevent landslides and soil eroding into rivers that could otherwise block the natural drainage system. Without this function, there would be greater flooding in towns downstream.
These environmental and social services that forested hill areas provide are often invisible and under-appreciated, until disturbance to the ecology by felling of trees and mining of sand among other practices.
Recent studies have compared the benefits of conserving or sustainably using natural resources to the revenues from exploiting nature in a careless way that maximizes short-term profits.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment pointed out that biodiversity such as forests and mangroves provide provisioning services (foods, crops, water, medicines), regulating services (filtration of pollutants by wetlands, climate regulation, pollination, and protection from disasters), supporting services (soil formation, photosynthesis, nutrient cycling), and cultural services (recreation, education, spiritual and aesthetic values).
Maintaining or augmenting the stocks of natural resources enables the continuous flows of these ecological services, whilst depleting stocks imply reduced flows of services in future, with adverse effects on human well-being.
Sand mining’s underrated threat to fight against climate change
Climate change is affecting every country and disrupting national economies, while affecting lives, costing people and communities.
People are experiencing the significant impacts of climate change, which include changing weather patterns, rising sea level, and more extreme weather conditions. The greenhouse gas emissions from human activities such as sand mining are driving climate change and continue to rise.
Sand has become so valuable that it is sometimes exported to neighbouring countries like Togo.
The phenomena hurt wildlife by removing basking and their egg laying habitat, while massive sand mining also affects humans.
Unsustainable sand mining processes lead to an increase in water pollution, creation of gullies and pits and impacts biodiversity severely.
Aside from that, sand winning activities also threaten human health as excessive noise and dust are released into the atmosphere during the process and from moving trucks carrying the sand to road construction sites.
Research has revealed that physical land degradation because of sand winning is; loss of topsoil, water erosion, gullies, stones on the exposed soil surface, exposed roots, and uneven topsoil and terrain deformation.
Unlike other prominent environmental issues like illegal mining (galamsey), illegal lumbering, felling of trees for charcoal production and other activities that threatened climate change, sand mining has not received the attention it deserves.
Call for concern
Mr Prince Owusu-Ansah, an Environmental Activist, told the GNA that “As citizens, while we fight for good roads infrastructure, we must also be concerned about the environmental implications that go into roads construction, especially in the area of where these contractors get the sand from for their filling purposes.”
He said while contractors build good roads, in the process they clear lands in which they cut down trees, degrade lands through fetching sand which they use in filling the demarcated areas on the construction sites.
He said all these were underrated threats to fighting climate change and its associated effects, which needed urgent attention from those in authority.
He added: “In light of difficult natural environment and complicated geologic conditions, it is important to strengthen environmental protection when building roads.”
Mr Desmond Tyro, a resident of Ketan, said the dust emanating from the sand winning site sometimes makes it difficult for the people to ply a road closer to the area.
He expressed worry about the health impacts of the situation saying, “The atmosphere is always dusty around that area, and you know the health implication of inhaling dust into your system. The situation is a bit worrying.”
While it is an undeniable fact that good road networks facilitate economic development, its construction also has some significant effects on the environment.
Therefore, there is the need for state agencies responsible for enforcing environmental laws like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to ensure contractors strictly adhere to regulations governing sand mining operations to minimize the adverse effects of their activities on the environment.
Road contractors must develop comprehensive land reclamation plans for the miners to replant trees to replenish the depleted vegetative cover.
Stakeholders must also make conscious efforts to put in place measures to reduce deforestation rates, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) which would help to lower damages from climate change.