President of Ghana Invites Earth Institute to Collaborate on Development
Tourism joins infrastructure, agriculture, and health as project focus
Perhaps the most surprising and inspiring development during a recent Earth Institute meeting with the President of Ghana and several of his ministers was the enthusiasm of the new Minister of Finance and Economic Planning for developing tourism as well as trade as engines of growth for the nation.
Columbia University experts in agriculture, energy, health, urban development, and economic growth traveled to Accra, the capital of this West African nation, last month to launch a joint project that they hope will result in its capital city, Accra, becoming a regional port and engine of growth for its West African neighbors. Accra is the first in a series of rapidly growing cities in developing countries whose sustainable development issues will be addressed as part of the Earth Institute at Columbia’s 21st Century Cities initiative (for more information see www.earth.columbia.edu).
Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs led the Columbia team, which also included Roberta Balstad Miller, director of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN); Pedro Sanchez, director of the Program for Tropical Agriculture; and Vijay Modi, professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia’s Earth Engineering Center.
While in Accra, Professor Modi met with energy experts and with engineers at the University of Accra at Legon. Says Modi, "Currently we are planning to explore the use of multi-functional vehicles, waste-to-energy, biomass gasification, and urban transportation to address the needs of the energy sector of Ghana.”
Tropical soils expert Pedro Sanchez traveled to Kumasi, a city in the interior of Ghana, to meet with senior faculty at the University of Science and Technology there. Sanchez is interested in the development potential of interactions between Accra and its hinterland, including issues such as nitrogen flow through the nation’s agricultural and urban ecosystems and using local produce for a donor-funded school lunch program.
Roberta Balstad Miller met with Ghana’s Minister for Tourism and Modernization of the Capital City, whose very title indicates the priority that the government of Ghana places on making tourism a major element in its economic growth. “Ghana has natural beauty and historic importance, and tourism is an excellent way to generate revenues in a manner that is compatible with a healthy environment,” says Dr. Miller.
Accra faces some formidable challenges to development including annual flooding that leads to water-related diseases such as malaria and cholera, and underdeveloped water treatment, transportation, and energy systems. On the other hand Ghana’s sound government, coastal location, and desire to embrace sustainable development lead the Columbia team to believe that feasible development strategies can be both devised and implemented.
Earlier this year a team of graduate students from Columbia’s School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation spent a week in Accra generating information and suggestions for the city’s development that informed the recent team’s visit. Funding from the Soros Foundation, and involvement of the Association of African Universities, will help get the project underway.
The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world’s leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.