Coastal Pollution and Women's Health in Ada-Foah, Ghana

By Tweneboah, Elaine | Women & Environments International Magazine, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Coastal Pollution and Women's Health in Ada-Foah, Ghana


Tweneboah, Elaine, Women & Environments International Magazine


Ghana has a beautiful coastline of 550 kilometres, more than half of it being made up of sandy beaches, several forts and castles built between the 15th and 18th centuries, attracting many domestic and international tourists. [Plate 1] The current major uses of the coastal environment of Ghana are fishing, human settlements, tourism, industrial developments, and sand mining. Coastal resources are important in providing food, fuel, household materials (such as thatch and other building materials), and medicines for many communities. Despite this wide range of values, the coastal resources are being overexploited and certain groups are feeling the effects of this more strongly than others. The over-use of resources is linked to increasing pressures from human settlements (as a result of migration and population increases), and pollution from economic activities, all of which impact adversely on the entire coast. Levels of pollutants, both sea and land based, as well as the rate at which biodiversity is being lost, have risen remarkably in the past twenty years.

The primary sources of sea-based pollution of the marine environment in Ghana are discharges of untreated wastes from ships and residual oil in ballast waters from oil tankers. Land-based sources of pollution include waste from industries, agriculture, and settlements along the coast. The main producers of industrial waste are the textile and food processing industries and the petroleum refineries. However, the most common forms of pollution - faecal waste and refuse - are from domestic sources. Refuse and human waste is dumped directly on beaches and is washed into the sea and later deposited on beaches elsewhere. These poor sanitary practices contribute to health problems and the degradation of the coastal environment. There is also a decrease in the aesthetic value of the coastal environment, which seems the major draw for the foreign tourists. Poor sanitation and pollution from domestic sources are perhaps the most widespread and pervasive of all the problems affecting the coastal zone of Ghana.

Making the Link - Women, Coastal Pollution and Health

Though the links between human health and pollution have long been recognized, the health impacts of exposure to pollution and poor sanitation cannot be generalised. The issues of coastal pollution given above affect both men and women, but there is an abundance of evidence indicating that rural coastal women are among the most affected groups. As managers of natural resources, food providers and caregivers for other family members, women interact most closely with the biophysical environment to enable them to provide the basic needs of water, food and energy. In addition, they depend on available natural resources for augmenting their families' diets and income. Thus any deterioration in environmental resources as a result of pollution not only creates hardships and difficulties but impacts adversely on women's health and their ability to deliver care to their families.

The Situation Among Women in Ada-Foah

In Ada-Foah, a coastal community in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana, environmental health hazards facing women have been more of "traditional" hazards arising from their daily activities and natural phenomena. However, with globalisation and industrialisation, "modern" hazards such as chemical pollution and natural resource depletion are impacting the health of these women. As they go through the day, they carry out various activities such as searching for water and fuel wood, cooking, growing food, processing and marketing of fish, all of which bring them into close contact with the environment. These activities also expose women to various forms of pollution and health hazards, many of which go unnoticed by the women themselves.

Water Pollution

In 2000, only 40 percent of the rural population had access to safe water in Ghana. Many rural communities like Ada-Foah lack potable water.

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