Saturday, April 07, 2007

The rains

The rains have started to fall.

At the first sign of rain, all the children in my compound rushed into the centre courtyard, dancing and clapping their hands. This rainfall signals the gradual transition into the rainy season – that movement from parched, brown landscapes into lush green fields and humidity. And it’s certainly cause to celebrate.

It’s an understatement to say that the rains are significant here. Not only will they provide some respite from the omnipresent heat – more importantly, they’ll provide life to the farmers of Ghana.

The majority of farming here is irrigated by rain. In the dry season, nothing can grow (there are some exceptions – for instance, onion fields can be seen near perennial water sources like rivers). Yams, cassava, groundnuts, hot pepper, tomatoes, corn – they’re all dependent on nature, and if the rains don’t come, the crops won’t grow.

So the fact that the rains have come, and are falling more consistently early in the season, bodes well for the people of northern Ghana. People are happy, then, when the downpours come.

Another issue with rain is Ghana’s power. We’re currently experiencing an energy crisis. The majority (something like 70%) of Ghana’s power is generated through a hydroelectric dam on Lake Akosombo. The problem is that last year’s rains were not sufficient, and left the water level in the dam too low to operate at maximum capacity. Thermal generating plants are being constructed to help bolster the system’s output, but from what I’ve read, this is still a few months away.

As a result, the power company has instituted power rationing. This means that 25% of the time, my neighbourhood has no power – for 12 hours at night, and then a day later, 12 hours during the day, we have no electricity in our house.

I can’t imagine the effect this is having on Ghana’s industry – imagine a factory which normally operates around the clock, not being able to operate 25% of the time because of a lack of power.

And there’s no immediate end in sight. In the south, the rains aren’t expected to start falling until July – until then, the water level in the dam will continue to dip lower and lower.

In urban Canada, we often see rain as a nuisance, preventing us from bike riding or a visit to the park – or at best, we thank the rain for improving the colour of our lawn.

In Ghana, the rain is life: an example of how the vagaries of nature can upset the fragile balance so many people cling to. For many people here life here is precarious and uncertain – this lack of security, I think, is one of the primary characteristics of poverty.


Erin said...

beautiful. now i don't feel so bad about all the rain we've had in the last couple weeks ... but if only that pesky snow would stop falling ...

Steve said...

Hey Luke,

While it's true that in urban Canada we tend to look at rain with disdain, the same cannot be said of rural Canada. While they don't depend so heavily on rain for power, and while they do enjoy government subsidies and tax breaks, farmers in Canada still have a heck of a time dealing with the inconsistencies of the weather. I don't remember the last time they've had a 'good' growing season. They still depend on the rain quite a bit, and we in kind depend on them for our food. It's true that we don't depend on them as much, since we can import our food from places like California, but as the Buy Local movement is growing, and as urban Canadians (like us) try to lower their ecological impact (or simply support their fellow Canadians) by buying from local growers, I think you're going to see more and more urbanites feel the plight of the farmer and be more gracious towards the presence of rain.

Anyway, the comparison may not be fair; obviously in the droughts of Africa farming becomes a virtual life-or-death endeavor. But I do believe that there are many people all over the world, even in the most economically prosperous, who depend on nature for their lives and livelihood. Which is why, in this world of 'global climate change', our choices have a huge impact on the sustainability of farms (and food sources) world wide, but especially in the most difficult of conditions, where people are often the poorest, and food the hardest to grow.

Pete said...

Hey Luke,

I think I will have to agree with Steve on this, not because I like to disagree with you but because I think he is correct that your comparison may not be fair. Your blog entry appears to compare rural Ghana to urban Canada which in itself is like comparing, as Mme Teasel would say 'les pommes et les bananes'.

I'm also not certain that all urban centres view rain as a nuissance. For example, if you look at the drought in Australia and the water restrictions that have been implemented in some major urban centres, particularly Melbourne. The residents of Melbourne, have endured drought for several years now, and are constantly fighting off the threat rampant forest fires much like the ones experienced in Kelowna back in Canada. These fires can cause serious destruction to infrastructure as well as threaten human life.

So although drought in 'first world' nations may not be considered as dire because they don't experience the same hardships in rebuilding, due to insurance and government aid etc., it can still have a large impact on those affected.

mark said...

Just as a side note...

Some interesting points are raised in this discussion. One issue which I believe is undermining for many Canadians is the depletion of our local water resources. Remember that Canada has some of the most valuable fresh water systems in the world, yet for the most part, depletion of this resource from overuse is ignored by North Americans (I would say as a whole).

I think our infrastructure has been so far developed making access to resources so convenient, that it has made us short-sighted of the consequences. Last summer, England experienced water shortages causing people to bath in the streets - no water was available in the homes, and I quote Martin Lawrence from Bad Boys II when his sister got taken hostage... "it just got real.".... Pretty soon.. its gonna get really "real" for us if we maintain our current wasteful habits.

Stay Alert... and Stay Safe.

Peter said...


I must agree with some of the points raised by Steve, Pete and Mark in that it is quite difficult to compare the attitudes towards weather of urban Canadians to even those of rural Canadians let alone the Ghanaian farmer trying to survive. Making such a comparison requires an assumption that the rain bears the same impact on our everyday lives regardless of where we live. But this assumption is difficult to make as local environmental effects play a major role in these attitudes.

Certainly your point is valid in cities like Vancouver and other urban centers in BC where rain is in overabundance but in town and cities in the prairies, the livelihood of these provinces depends greatly on their primarily agrarian economy and so rain is much more vital to their livelihood than our own here in Ontario.

The current abundance of water in many parts of the country can change rapidly, especially as more companies tap local aquifers in order to bottle water, depleting local water tables. Certainly this affects farmers that depend on well water to live as they are not typically connected urban water supplies. Perhaps if urban Canadians realized where their bottles of water came from and the impact these have it might change attitudes toward water supplies particularly since the only way to replenish the water table is through rainfall. But as long as we can turn on our taps and see water come out the attitude towards water we have here in urban Ontario will remain .

Have we not learned anything from the movie "Ice Pirates".

Luke Brown said...

Steve: agreed. I think we live in a cushioned environment, by and large, in urban Canada, and don't realize how our lives are intricately linked to nature (although, as you mention, global warming is starting to take on significant meaning for people in Canada). I think my point is that the vulnerability levels of people in rural Ghana are infinitely higher than in Canada -- rural or urban (as you mention, it's life or death in the developing world), and this divide is so large that no matter how much we start to "Buy Local" or lower our ecological impact, we'll never truly appreciate this divide because we have too many safety mechanisms in place to cushion us.

Pete: Way to burn a (parched) straw man. I'm not comparing the environments of rural Ghana to urban Canada -- I'm comparing the reactions people have to rain in both these areas. The point is that:
a) Our lives are not held in as tenuous a balance as the rural poor of Ghana
b) As a result, in urban Canada it's easy to overlook the connection we do have to nature (a connection which, granted, is much less strong than in rural Ghana).

You've provided a few solid examples of the developed world being affected by nature -- and certainly there are more (New Orleans, Vancouver just last year, etc.). But they're still, by and large, isolated cases. Find me an urban developed city where the people's lives are as intricately and consistently and obviously dependent on nature as rural Ghana, then we'll talk.

Mark: I think it's gonna be tough for me to come back to Canada and know that the amount of water I use in 1 shower is probably equivalent to 15 bucket baths in Ghana. Maybe the Canadian government should institute a mandatory weekly "bucket bath" day, just to give people some perspective. I suggest Tuesdays.

Peter: Agreed. Once again, I was trying to point out the huge gap in vulnerability between Ghanaian farmers and Canadian urban (or rural, for that matter) dwellers. It's really something that's hard for us to fathom.

Ian said...

Luke did you know that you are on the first page of hits when you put Luke Brown into Google??? Popular guy!

PS are you guys being ironic with you're super long posts with big words cause if that's the case I thought it was funny

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