One issue that became the main focus of the Minister for Water Resources, Works and Housing, Mr Collins Dauda when he visited the Barekese dam site a few months ago, was the impunity with which illegal chainsaw operators were dissipating forest reserves at the catchment area of the dam.
Moments after the minister arrived at the dam site with his entourage as part of his working visit, the Ashanti Regional Director of the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), Mr Opoku Ware Darko, minced no words when he expressed concern about the impunity with which chainsaw operators were destroying the canopy that protects the Barekese dam.
Destruction of canopies of the Barekese dam
Lamenting about the frustration the GWCL was going through to produce sufficient potable water for residents in the Kumasi metropolis and its environs, Mr Darko said one of the contributory factors inhibiting the production of water was the rate at which forest reserves that formed a canopy to protect the dam was being destroyed through chainsaw operations.
He said by protecting the dam, the canopy also prevented massive evaporation of vapour from the dam into the atmosphere, thereby maintaining the volume of water to enhance adequate supply to the public.
The maiden visit by Mr Dauda to the Barekese dam since his appointment afforded him the opportunity to learn at first-hand the main challenges undermining the supply of sufficient potable water to residents in Kumasi.
It also offered him the platform to interact more meaningfully with the staff of the company on government interventions to address the myriads of water shortages in parts of the country, including the Kumasi metropolis.
In his briefing Mr Darko noted that “beside farming very close to the dam, illegal chainsaw operations at the site by a section of the youth had also become the order of the day”.
“The illegal chainsaw operators destroy the canopies day and night, depleting the forest reserves with impunity , and exposing the dam to the scorching sun, and all effort to curb the situation had not yielded fruitful results” he lamented during the briefing.
The effect, Mr Darko noted, was the continuous reduction of the volume of water at the Barekese dam, thereby undermining the quest of meeting the demands of clients in terms of potable water supply for domestic and other uses.
Minister appeals to farmers
While the minister was still brooding over the issue of illegal chainsaw operations and other human and technical factors undermining the supply of sufficient potable water to residents in the Kumasi metropolis, a delegation of farmers from Asuofua ambushed the minister and his entourage and made startling revelations on how chainsaw operations were rife at the catchment area of the dam.
In a petition presented to the minister, the farmers – six in number, and each of them 60 years old – gave a vivid account of why farming and illegal chainsaw operations were rife at the site.
Their spokesman, Mr Osei Nimo, told the minister that the acquisition of the land which led to the construction of the Barekese dam over 40 years ago, affected farmers were resettled at Asuofua, a few kilometres away in 1975.
He said prior to their resettlement, they were assured of prompt payment of their compensation for their crops that were affected by the project.
Mr Nimo, who is also the assembly member for the Asuofua Electoral Area, said since the state acquired the crop farms to build the Barekese dam, “the state is yet to compensate any of us who sacrificed our crops for the landmark project”.
“Many of my colleagues who should have benefited from the compensation have died from abject poverty, with the surviving ones struggling to make ends meet,” he lamented.
He said they had made several appeals to sector ministers and other dignitaries, but all their appeals had not received the needed attention, explaining that besides Asuofua, communities like Anwoma, Amisare, Tonto Kokoben and Asuminya that were affected by the project and resettled had not been compensated by the state to enable them to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
Mr Nimo said “the failure of the state to pay our crop compensation is influencing some of the youth of the affected farmers to return to the catchment area of the Barekese dam to farm, with others engaging in chainsaw operations”.
“We could also have returned to the site to engage in farming and other activities to generate revenue to fend for ourselves, but had been restraining ourselves over the years.
This is because we are law-abiding citizens. Our children could also have done the same, but we have prevented them from doing so,” he reasoned.
Failure of state to honour pledges to farmers
According to Mr Nimo, the affected farmers were also assured of the supply of free potable water from the Barekese dam, but to date, they had been paying for each drop of water supplied.
“When our crop farms were vested in the state for the construction of the dam, we were also assured that apart from the crop compensation, the state would provide our community with free potable water for the sacrifices we made.
However, since we settled at Asuofua, we have been paying for every drop of water we use,” he bemoaned.
Expressing concern about the abject poverty they had been subjected to, and how it had affected them and their offsprings over the years, Mr Nimo again noted that “for over 40 years, we have been paying for every drop of water we use, but have not received a pesewa from our crop lands vested in the state”.
He, however, warned, “Since we have no sources of livelihood, and the state is continually refusing to pay our compensation for crops sacrificed for the construction of the Barekese dam, we may be forced to return to the site just as others are doing to earn a living”.
While sympathising with the farmers for their patience over the years, Mr Dauda gave an assurance that he would study their petition and expedite action for them to receive their compensation.
While parting ways with the minister, it became clear that the farmers may carry out their threat of invading the catchment area of the land if the state continued to ignore their petition and pay them as early as possible.
There is no denying the fact that millions of residents in the Kumasi metropolis had over the years benefited tremendously from the construction of the Barekese dam.
The threat of invading the dam site should not be taken lightly, because the adage is “a snake bites only when it has been unduly disturbed”.
The time to compensate the affected farmers is now, because any more delay may not augur well for the continuous flow of potable water to residents in the Kumasi metropolis and its environs.
By George Ernest Asare/Daily Graphic/Ghana