The Directive Principles of State Policy ( Article 36 ( 9) of the 1992 Constitution states that, “The State shall take appropriate measures needed to protect and safeguard the national environment for posterity and shall seek co-operation with other states for the purposes of protecting the wider international environment for mankind.”
In the National Environmental Policy (2014) document, then President John Dramani Mahama, in a loaded foreword, wrote inter alia, “ The National Environment Policy re-affirms our commitment to manage the environment to sustain society at large. The policy, therefore, seeks to provide strategic direction to unite Ghanaians in working towards a society where all will have access to sufficient and wholesome food, clean air and waste, decent housing and other necessities of life that will further enable them to live in harmony with their natural surroundings.”
Noise pollution is given space in the policy. One definition of noise pollution says it takes place when there is either excessive amount of noise or an unpleasant sound that causes temporary disruption in the natural balance. This applies to sounds or noises that are unnatural in either their volume or their production.
The environment we live in is such that noise is something we can hardly escape from, but, excessive noise is controllable.
Experts have warned that environmental noise above the accepted level can result in hearing defects and associated health implications.
However, in this country, one commonest feature in our cities, particularly Accra and Kumasi, is the heavy dose of noise that greets people daily.
From our homes to the environment outside, we come into direct contact with excessive noise with all the attendant negative consequences.
Shrieking sounds from old car engines and machines, the mounting of loud speakers on vehicles to advertise various products, noise generated from itinerant men of God and other places of worship, indiscriminate blowing of sirens, ear-splitting noise that sweeps through lorry parks, drinking spots and funeral grounds, all constitute a serious environmental issue that policy makers and law enforcement agencies have failed to deal with.
Clearly, to say that Ghana and noise pollution are bedfellows is an understatement. This is in spite of the existence of an environmental policy to check noise levels. To me, it appears authorities have virtually lost the fight against the menace.
In 2014, Ghana, through the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, launched the National Environmental Policy document, which implementation was expected to promote sustainable environment.
Permissible noise levels
The National Environmental Policy outlines the guidelines produced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicating the permissible ambient noise levels for the country.
In the guidelines, the decibel (db) rating of sounds mentioned include extremely loud sounds, 110 -180; very loud, 80 – 100; moderately loud, 50-70; quiet, 30-40; very quiet, 10-20.
In spite of these guidelines, noise in the country, especially in the urban centres, remains excessive.
Apart from the National Environmental Policy, the assemblies also have their own by-laws to check excessive noise making.
About five years ago, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), for instance, introduced a policy on excessive noise making.
The by-law provides that sounds permitted within residential areas are between 55 db in the day and 48 decibels db in the night. In other places such as entertainment centres, churches and mosques, the permitted noise is 65 db during the day and 60 db at night, while in the industrial areas, noise allowed is 70-80 db in day time and 60-70 db during the night.
Although, these are fine policies, they have virtually remained on paper as the enforcement is virtually non-existent.
In recent memory, the only time the AMA decided to apply the law was in 2013 thereabout when 50 people were convicted by the AMA District Court for causing noise pollution in the capital.
Fines between GH¢60 and GH¢1,800 were imposed on them. As to whether the fines were deterrent enough is another question that needs an answer.
Failure by the EPA and the assemblies to enforce the laws and get people to keep noise in the stipulated range has emboldened people to continue making noise with impunity.
As a country, it is time we allowed the laws to work without which we won’t get anywhere. The environment must be protected at all cost and in doing so, controlling noise levels must be given special attention.