From my rooftop: Back to charcoal days
About a quarter of a century ago, the government of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) embarked on a vigorous campaign to encourage the use of gas as an alternative to charcoal and firewood.
The reasons were plain and obvious. Gas is clean and neat. It enables a more hygienic kitchen environment and, therefore, makes the food cleaner and safer.
The biggest argument in favour of gas was that its use would protect the environment against degradation, since it would reduce the cutting down of trees for charcoal burning and atmospheric pollution by smoke.
These convincing arguments notwithstanding, many Ghanaians were not ready to buy into what, to many families, was a new phenomenon. There were issues with safety and accessibility. Gas was not freely sold in those days and there was the more serious question of how safe gas was in the kitchen.
There was also resistance from charcoal burners and firewood merchants who saw the massive use of gas as a serious threat to their business.
The Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) was particularly conspicuous as one of the public institutions that spearheaded the public education on the gas use campaign.
Commercial food vendors, popularly called chop-bar operators, were key elements in the campaign more because of the volume of wood they burn in the preparation of their food and the contamination that could easily arise as a result of the heavy smoke emitted.
Thankfully, the new idea gradually gained acceptance after intensive public education and the assurance that the commodity was safe, comparatively cheaper and, more importantly, would be available at all times. After all, gas is a waste product in the oil production chain and availability should not pose a problem to any serious country that wants to use it.
Many homes in the country in both urban and rural communities discarded the coal pots and hearths and opted for gas. Even homes that had access to electricity and could afford electric stoves placed their trust in gas because it was cheaper and in a way, safer.
With time, motorists, especially commercial drivers, installed gas in their vehicles to reduce running costs as a result of high petrol prices.
Unfortunately, for reasons some may see as economic but which I think is as a result of bad planning, gas has become a scarce commodity. On several occasions, for days and weeks, households do not get gas for cooking.
Apologists of government, as in all other failures, found ready excuses for the shortage. It is either a ship bringing the gas had delayed in arriving or the country is cash strapped to effect payment for importing the commodity. At other times, the blame is put on the doorstep of commercial drivers.
The question is: Are taxi and trotro drivers not part of the Ghanaian public? And are the passengers they ferry in their daily business not Ghanaians? And so who are the so-called government subsidy benefiting? What about countries that rely on gas for everything, including heating, cooking and powering their vehicles? How would they respond to gas shortage for even a day?
The reality of the situation has compelled many homes to go back to charcoal, at least as a backup. If those in Accra and other cities and towns are reverting to the primitive past, what about those in the rural communities who already had their doubts about gas when it was introduced.
Now it is difficult to go on any public education campaign to try and convince anybody to go for gas for convenience, safety, affordability and accessibility. Gas, if even it is available, is expensive. An average monthly consumption in a standard Ghanaian home is not less than GH¢100. Judging from income levels, this is on the high side, in addition to water and electricity bills.
Today, urban life is becoming more and more expensive, taking us back to the past because of failure of utility service providers to live up to expectation. Many homes in Accra have to rely on boreholes for water supply because the water company cannot extend their pipelines to those places, or if they do, no water would flow through them. The excuse is always the same. No money.
The energy crisis is now part and parcel of our national life and those who could afford had to install their own plants. What percentage of the population could afford to do so? Very negligible.
As we cry for gas to cook in our homes, gas is being wasted at the Jubilee Fields because we lack that commitment that, come what may, gas from our own gas fields should reach our homes within a targeted date without fail.
If you try to find out you will be told a million and one excuses why the Atuabo gas plant is delaying long after the expiry of its original completion date.
Development and progress do not come by accident. It is the result of deliberate and consistent planned strategy that is implemented vigorously with religious fervour.
We cannot continue to survive on wild dreams and fertile imaginations of leaders who cannot pursue a progressive national development agenda that sets achievable targets within specific periods.
When President John F. Kennedy challenged the US science community to place man on the Moon before the end of the decade, it happened. He did not live long to celebrate it but American astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon on July 20, 1969 when he commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft. That is an example of leadership that sets objectives not for the fun of it and a country that has a mission to fulfill.
It is strange we cannot confront life's challenges with fortitude and determination to succeed but to think of countless excuses to explain our failures while others with very little of our resources continue to move on.
Some of the questions we must all try to answer include: Why is it that countries with bigger populations and heavy industries that consume a lot of energy do not complain of power shortage? Why is it that countries without a fraction of our water resources have enough for their domestic and industrial consumption? And why are our problems so complex that without external intervention we are hopeless?
If a quarter of a century or so ago, we as a nation took a firm decision to join the ranks of other nations to go modern and use gas, and today we are back to charcoal and firewood, if even sporadically, then we must admit that there is a serious flaw in our development strategy as a nation, if there is any.
Otherwise, we must just accept that we are drifting and living on chance and surviving by kind courtesy of nature.