Environmental degradation in our physical world has been going on for centuries as human beings begin to find ways of living on this earth. Man has always made use of the land, rivers, lakes, and other resources of his physical environment. And as far as he was concerned, the use of the environment was normal , for there was no excessive or extremely destructive use of the environment until then. Until a few decades ago, human beings were not particularly aware that the environment was being excessively and carelessly used and was consequently being degraded.
The degradation of the environment has become a problem for us today due to several factors. One outstanding factor is the huge increase in population in many countries, including Ghana are experiencing. The consequence of this increase in population is that many, many more people will have to use the resources of the environment such as the land and rivers. This has in fact resulted in the damage to the environment in different ways. It has become difficult to control the large population of the urban communities in particular whose activities have brought about problems of waste management.
Also, the search for wealth, in the attempt to deal with huge economic problems has led to an unprecedented scale at which the land is being used and the trees of the forest being carelessly felled to feed the timber with furniture industries. Another factor relates to the desire to satisfy the comforts of modern life and to develop industrial and technological economies.
In the wake of the increasing degradation of the environment, the need for conservation of the environment has become very urgent, for this is the only way to stop further destruction of the environment and, in this way, to preserve what remains of the natural environment.
Degrading the environment means reducing or diminishing its value or use to the extent that it can not function in the way it used to do before or be found as useful as it was before the process of degradation set in. As a result of degradation,the quality environment becomes worse, with terrible consequences for the living things that depend on it for their livelihood and survival.
When the environment is degraded, the land becomes less fertile and, thus less productive, the water we drink becomes polluted and its quality, thus reduced, the quantity of water too becomes badly affected as rivers and streams dry up and water storage follows, a previously flourishing vegetation or forest becomes desert, while the air we breathe becomes polluted, and so on. This causes manifestations and consequences of the degrading of the environment will be discussed in the sections that follow.
Conservation means keeping something safe from damage or deterioration or loss,or change that we would, for some very important reasons, consider undesirable or unacceptable. Conserving the environment means managing it in such a way that its quality, natural resources are preserved and protected. In conserving the environment, then we are required to prevent the destruction, loss, damage and waste of the various resources of the environment, water resources,forest resources and wildlife and so on.
The three major areas of the environment that often suffer degradation at the hands of Ghanaians are land, water and air.
The degradation of the land manifests itself in several forms. That is to say, there are different ways in which the quality or the use of the land can be said to have diminished or lessened.
Mining is an important industry in Ghana because of the number of mineral deposits found in its soil. There are quite a number of mining companies in Ghana that are mining gold, diamond, manganese and bauxite. The country also has deposits of limestone. There are some environmental problems that result from mining activities. These problems include water, soil and land degradation. Chemicals such as cyanide, used in the processing and refining of gold can pollute water bodies as well as the atmosphere. Surface mining known in Ghana as “galamsey” results in the creation of many large holes that can destroy farmlands and crops.
Our farmers often clear the land for farming purposes by burning the bushes covering the areas they want to farm. The fire gets out of control and burns much, much larger area than was originally planned by them; the fire spreads to places far beyond the farmer’s own limited farm area. Bush fires destroy not only farms and crops but also the forests and the habitat of animals. Since animals live in the bush, constant and extensive burning of the bush can seriously endanger their existence and lead to the extinction of many species of animals. The indiscriminate or unintended burning of the bush is a serious damage to the environment as it badly affects the temperature and patterns of rainfall, apart from the things it directly destroys, such as farms, crops, forests and so on.
Environmental degradation is caused by also by improper farming practices. In preparing the land for farming, farmers burn the weeds before they plant the crops. This process of burning destroys the organisms and nutrients of the soil and can thus make the land infertile. Due to increased population, a given piece of land is often over cultivated, an action that results in removing the nutrients of the soil, causing it to be infertile. Over cultivation prevents the land from lying fallow and thus from regaining its fertility. Other improper farming practices include the excessive use of agro chemicals such as fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides all of which destroy plants. All this damages the physical environment.
Deforestation, the cutting down of the trees of the forest is one of the outstanding causes of environmental degradation. The timber industry, which depends only on the availability of trees, has led to the cutting down of large trees for local wood industry and for export, and this is done on an extensive scale because of a lot of people are involved in it due to the huge profits that come from this industry. In the process of cutting down large trees for timber, small and medium-sized trees are also destroyed, as the large ones being felled fall on them.
In order to clear some part of the forest and prepare it for farming, trees in the area are cut down. In this way, constant and extensive use of the land for farming will cause deforestation, the loss of the forests. The main source of domestic fuel for the rural population and for some people even in the urban towns is charcoal,obtained from the wood from the forest.