Sustainable port development in Ghana

Terma Port The 'Integrated and sustainable port development in Ghana' pilot project will take place at the port of Terma. Credit Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority

Port development in Africa has continued to gain momentum as countries on the continent launch new constructions or expand and rehabilitate existing ones amid concerns about the true impact of these projects, both on land and on the quality of the marine environment. Shem Oirere reports

The concerns arise from the realisation that Africa lacks the requisite port development design tools that go beyond conforming to the International Maritime Organization Convention on Marine Pollution guidelines to include the integration of key ingredients such as engineering, ecology, economy and governance.

It is the lack of integration of these aspects into port development projects that has informed an ongoing pilot project, 'Integrated and sustainable port development in Ghana', an initiative of many institutions eager to develop guidelines on how the many stakeholders in port projects or operations can work together to ensure such undertakings yield benefits for people, the environment and the economy.

Multiple stakeholders

The project involves Technical University Delft, Wageningen University, IMARES, University of Ghana, UNESCO-IHE, Netherlands-African Business Council, Boskalis, Deltares, Ghana Netherlands Business and Culture Council, CWT, DAMEN, DeepBV, FMO, MTBS, IHCMerwede, VanOord, STC, Port of Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and World Wild Fund for Nature.

The institutions have picked the port of Tema in Ghana for the pilot project, whose outcomes include a package of relevant tools for the design of sustainable port development projects.

“A bottom-up approach is employed, with research in all four disciplines directed at relevant and practical cases in Africa,” according to the pilot project brief. It goes on to say: “Maintaining the marine ecology in and around a port is of the utmost importance; this contributes to biodiversity, provides ecosystem services, and facilitates port development.”

This integrated approach to port design also incorporates communities who live around ports and who bear the burden of the effects of marine pollution and unsustainable infrastructure and superstructure development during implementation of greenfield and brownfield port projects.

Massive expansion

Coincidentally, the picking of Tema port as a pilot location for the development of the relevant tools to help in the design of port construction and operations in Africa was done at a time of ongoing massive expansion works at this Atlantic Ocean gateway in readiness for anticipated gas-sector growth in Ghana and an increase in general cargo through the port.

The US$ 1.5 billion Tema Port expansion project is a strategy the West Africa country's ports operator Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) says would drive Ghana’s trade competitiveness, facilitate trade growth and improve revenue mobilisation.

The expansion involves “the building of a breakwater and an access channel harbouring deep-water berths to accommodate larger vessels with sophisticated port handling equipment.” Promoters of the project say the expansion is designed to provide a world class harbour infrastructure for the next 100 years.

Environmental cost

But like many massive port projects in Africa it comes at a cost to the environment. For example, the African Development Bank, one of the backers of the project, lists some of the environmental impacts of the ongoing port expansion works as including degradation of air quality due to emissions, increase in noise at nearby sensitive receptors due to site development construction, change in soil structure due to clearing and grading, alteration of topography due to trenching and backfilling to install the pipeline, contamination of soils due to solid and hazardous waste disposal, and change of soil surface and topography from land preparation activities for onshore.

There are many completed, ongoing and planned port projects in Africa and their impact on communities, the land and the marine environment remains a matter of concern to all. But with initiatives such as the 'Integrated and Sustainable Port Development in Ghana' project, governments and port operators in Africa could soon have the right tools to deploy in the design of port development projects with the participation of all stakeholders.

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