“The only way forward, if we are going to improve the quality of the environment, is to get everybody involved.” – Richard Rogers.
A significant feature about Beijing, the capital city of the People’s Republic of China is its magnificent architectural designs, the high rise buildings together with first-class road network and subway high-speed trains.
Added to this is the plentiful biodiversity, which cannot go unnoticed and for a first-time visitor, seeing the variety of trees, parks and gardens, alongside numerous unpolluted water bodies running through it is more exciting
Beijing covers a landmass of 16, 807.8 square kilometres, with a population in excess of 20 million.
China’s economic and opening-up reforms in 1979, the Asian country has over the years become attractive to foreign direct investments, culminating in economic boom.
This development, however, has come with its own challenges, especially in the area of air pollution. As many of the world’s multinational companies established in China, it would have to contend with environmental issues.
In line with its commitment to a green agenda that ties in with the global effort to tackle the changing climatic conditions by reducing the emission of carbon into the atmosphere, the central government is taking seriously the regeneration of parks and gardens in order to retain the ecology.
By kind courtesy of the Ministry of Information (MoI) and the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) Training Center, I was one of the 20 Ghanaian journalists selected to participate in a month-long capacity-building training seminar in Beijing, sponsored by China’s Ministry of Commerce and the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China and I was amazed at what I saw.
The Haidian District in Beijing, specifically, which has variety of flora and fauna, was where we were camped for the programme.
The manner in which the people have been sensitized to be responsive to environmental sanitation issues, something that cuts across all age groups and the community set-up is worth noting.
The District Bureau of Parks and Gardens, mandated to maintain the environment, is always at work knitting the parks, picking up litter on the pavement and gardens.
It is commonplace seeing residents throng community parks and water bodies in either the morning or evening for various activities – fishing, martial arts, strolling, jogging and other physical exercises to improve their health and wellbeing.
Li Jian Wen, a student of Tai Chi – a discipline of martial arts – has been training at the east end of the famous Yongding River over the years. He told this reporter of how the picturesque environment aids in his physical exercises.
“I am always connected to nature seeing the trees and the water. I think this helps me to concentrate on the scheduled training regimen for the day.”
Haidian is the second largest district in urban Beijing and covers an area of 431 square kilometres. Some of its landmarks and notable tourist attraction sites include the Summer Palace, Haidian Park, Fragrant Hills and the renowned Peking University.
What makes this area more important is the historic ‘Yongding River Diversion Channel’ project, which was executed between January 1956 and July 1957. It is the earliest water diversion initiative in Beijing.
The project connects the city’s main river source Yongding, to the water systems of Beijing’s numerous parks.
Since 1979, the city authorities have worked assiduously to expand the project in order to provide an all-year round irrigational services to the growing number of satellite parks and gardens, particularly the Haidian Park.
The famous Park is 40 hectares in land size, and comprises Changchun Park, Xihua Park, Quanzong Temple, and several other gardens, which contain rare species of plants, attracting many visitors and tourists – boosting the local economy.
Professor Wu Minsu, a Social Scientist at the Faculty of Literature and Law, Communication University of China, said recreational parks were emerging as important public health solutions in urban communities after China suffered long years of air pollution due to the mass industrialization .
Nearly forty (40) years of research evidence, she said, had confirmed that nearby nature – parks, gardens, the urban forest and green spaces, support human health and wellness.
Currently, the average life expectancy for male residents of Beijing is 79, and that of females, 83.
Prof Minsu added that the research about active living and opportunities to avoid chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease and respiratory problems) was particularly relevant to large parks where people could enjoy walking and bike paths, and playing fields, but equally as important was the role of small parks and nature spaces for health.
“Exposure to green spaces can be psychologically and physiologically restorative by improving mental health, reducing blood pressure and stress levels, as well as encouraging physical activity,” she stated.
Mr. Zhang Shan, a Beijing-based Chinese environmentalist, shared his views with this journalist on the environment and said his country had stepped up the education of the citizenry to protect nature.
“Our people are taught to realize that it is bad to tamper with nature, and that their own attitudes could either protect or degrade the environment.”
Beijing, taking cognizance of the fact that all the sustainable development goals (SDGs) are intertwined with the environment, has made it a national policy to plant trees on every available space.
It has incorporated green issues into its urban planning and development. Almost every public office, available pavement or road network in the city has a form of recreational facility in the shape of a natural tree or flower.
What lessons can Kumasi, once touted as the ‘Garden City of West Africa’ by Queen Elizabeth of England learn from the Beijing model?
Kumasi is approximately 500 kilometres north of the Equator and 200 kilometres north of the Gulf of Guinea. It is Ghana’s second largest city. Founded in 1680, it is one of the oldest existing cities in the West African sub-region, covering a total land area of 245 kilometers square.
According to the 2010 Population and Housing Census the city is inhabited by more than two million people.
The name Kumasi comes from the Twi word – meaning ‘Under the Kum Tree’. The name of the city in itself connotes nature, and it is against this backdrop that the deteriorating ecology and biodiversity of the ‘Garden City of West Africa’ should be of concern to everybody.
With variety of trees lined-up along the principal streets, including royal palm and ‘Neem’ trees, which give the city a natural shade, many residents took pleasure walking along the streets for their own wellbeing.
“Many visitors to the city were thrilled by the good scent that emitted from some of the trees in the night and the scenic beauty was simply unforgettable”, Opanyin Yaw Nimo, 83, and a former staff of the erstwhile United Trading Company (UTC), said.
According to the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA), some famous water bodies, including the ‘Susuan’, ‘Wewe’, ‘Suntre’, ‘Subin’, ‘Kwada’, ‘Dichem’ and other streams, which had now been polluted, gave biodiversity to the flourishing trees.
The springing up of illegal structures on water courses, haphazard dumping of refuse, open defecation and other negative practices have combined to undermine efforts at protecting the environment.
The once cherished ‘neem’ and other tree species could hardly be seen these days – cut down for the purposes of urbanization and other development issues.
This has come with a cost – recurring flooding with the attendant destruction of lives and property.
In the middle of this year seven people lost their lives in the city following two days of heavy torrential rainfall. Property running into thousands of Ghana cedis also got wrecked.
KMA, under the leadership of Mr. Osei Assibey Antwi, the current Mayor, has taken various initiatives to restore the metropolis to its former status as the ‘Garden City’ of West Africa.
The Assembly’s ‘Keep Kumasi Clean and Green’, is designed to resuscitate the flora and fauna in order to enhance the wellbeing of the people.
The Mayor says more than 30, 000 tree species have been planted. A number of dust bins have also been placed at vantage points to discourage people from indiscriminate dumping of refuse.
Additionally, a sanitation brigade has been formed to support in the arrest of those caught littering.
There is also the ‘Youth in Afforestation Programme’, which has recruited one thousand youth to plant trees in the city, and this is being supported by the Forestry Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research through the supply of tree seedlings.
“Our aim is to bring back life to Kumasi for our own good,” said the Mayor.
Indeed, all is not too late, and the inauguration of the Rattray Park in 2016, reinforces the commitment of the assembly to improve the scenic beauty of Kumasi.
There is however the need for attitudinal change on the part of the citizenry towards environmental sanitation issues if this noble goal is to become a dream come true. There is the need for the people to unite their effort – work together to promote a cleaner environment.
Beijing presents the best model Kumasi could learn from. We should all accept to do the right things to enhance environmental sanitation in the once ‘Garden City of West Africa’.
By Stephen Asante
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