Cleaning Up Ghana’s Air

Ghana. As the population of Ghana has grown rapidly over the last decade, the number of vehicles on the road has increased at a similar pace. Between 2000 and 2005, the total fleet population expanded from 382,621 to 624,783.

More cars mean more vehicle emissions, making air pollution the primary culprit in the noxious smog that envelops Accra and other metropolitan areas in Ghana.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution causes over 4 million deaths annually and wreaks havoc on those with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung and heart diseases and respiratory allergies.

Currently, Ghana has no concrete standard for evaluating emissions in private or public vehicles. The Driver’s License Vehicles Association’s (DVALA) sole qualification for tailpipe exhaust is that it must not obstruct or create a nuisance for other drivers.

This overly subjective criterion has made it difficult to effectively regulate emissions. However, a number of government ministries are currently working together to create and enforce a new standard that would ensure that the most polluting vehicles stay off the road.

The lifeblood of the effort is the Vehicular Emission Inventory published in 2007 by the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency. The survey created a wealth of data regarding vehicle emissions in the country. Estimates showed that total vehicle emissions rose 16.67% a year between 2001 and 2005 and are predicted to double by 2011 to over 111,00 tons.

The most notable component of the findings was the age of the fleet. The median age of an automobile in Ghana is 14 years old and EPA authorities believe there are a number of refurbished automobiles whose original parts may be more than 30 years old. It is the older vehicles–which have rudimentary emission systems–that are the greatest offenders in air pollution

The creation of a new, scientific standard to regulate emissions is led by the EPA and Climate Change Director William Kojo-Agyemang-Bonsu.

Agyemang-Bonsu stressed that increasing emissions standards is like walking a tightrope, as it’s crucial that new regulations don’t negatively impact transit-related commerce. “We are attempting to create a standard that is progressive, but also gradual”, he said. He added that the EPA would likely institute the new standards over a four to five year period, with more rigorous standards being enforced each year.

But even after a new standard is created–which EPA officials believe should occur within the next 1-2 years–cleaner air will still not be achieved without the full participation of both the Driver’s License Vehicle Authority (DVALA) and the Metropolitan Transportation Enforcement (MTE).

The DVALA is in charge of conducting safety inspections on both private and public vehicles and awarding the safety certificates that vehicles must need to legally drive on the road. However, the agency’s efforts are often thwarted by unreliable recordkeeping and employees susceptible to bribes.

According to DVALA Director of Vehicle Inspection and Registration George Ackom, the agency began developing a new IT database to track vehicles two years ago.

The effort was supposed to be completed after nine months, but is still unfinished today. The lack of centralized electronic record keeping has made it hard for the agency to battle with much of the interior corruption it faces.

Ackom admitted that owners whose cars fail the inspection are often able to receive the certificate anyway by paying off employees. “We need a IT system in order to create more accountability,” he said.

The last peg in the effort is the Metropolitan Traffic Enforcement (MTE), which is responsible for citing owners who drive without the necessary safety certificate. Currently, the maximum penalty for such a violation is GHC 25 or 12 months in prison.

According to D. Addison-Campbell, a superintendent in the MTE administrative bureau, officers currently issue citations that are to be paid at a later date. However due to the lack of central record keeping, it is difficult to enforce compliance. Addison-Campbell says that pending legislation, which would allow officers to issue fines on the spot, would greatly increase accountability.

The catalyst for clear air reform is two-fold: Not only do officials seek to limit Ghana’s influence on global climate change, but also alleviate the hazardous effects of air pollution on its citizenry. Many Accra residents complain that the exhaust fumes that cloak the city irritate their senses. “The smoke from the cars is very bad,” said Security Guard Sam Duah, who added that the exhaust fumes often make him cough.

Tourists visiting Accra are also irked by the poor air quality. Grace Pettygrove, a 21-year old American journalism student studying in Accra, said that the dense air pollution makes her commute home unpleasant. “It reminds me of Los Angeles,” she said. “I feel like I’m suffocating sometimes, it’s miserable.” Other foreigners echo similar sentiments and it is apparent that cleaner air would both enhance the quality of life for Ghanaians and Ghana’s image as a tourist destination.

Most taxi and tro-tro drivers have no qualms with new emission standards, as long as they are phased in gradually and with flexibility. However, at some point in the near future, Ghana will need to enforce a modern and stringent emission standard to combat the specter of climate change and urban smog. In doing so, it will be imperative that vehicles that don’t make the grade are vanquished from the road.

With the wealth of primary data accumulated in the Vehicle Emission Inventory and the vital cooperation of the EPA, the DVALA and the MTE, it appears Ghana is on the road to cleaner air. But the effort will be a difficult one and reliant on eliminating bribery, creating a modern IT system for vehicle registration and, most importantly, formulating an emission standard that’s appropriate for the nation’s needs. It’s a daunting task, but if achieved will usher in a progressive vehicle emissions standard that will be a breath of fresh air for residents across the country.



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