NOISE is, perhaps, the commonest nuisance in the Ghanaian society with cities being the worst affected.
Even though some noises come naturally, others are consciously generated and in this era of democratic dispensation, the general notion is that it is within the democratic rights of people to do whatever they like, damn the consequences.
Notwithstanding the fact that there are laws governing noise-making in this country, the enforcement agencies seem to give people the leeway to do whatever they like.
In Ghana, every city has bye-laws prohibiting sound above a certain threshold. However, enforcement is always a problem, as the authorities do not follow up on complaints. Even where a municipality has an enforcement office, it may only be willing to issue warnings, since taking offenders to court is seen as alien to our culture.
So what do we see today? City dwellers are bombarded by noise. In fact the volume of noise pollution has become a great source of concern for people and the general belief is that unless something positive is done to check the menace, the consequences could be drastic.
As one writer wrote, “On the way to work, on the job and on the way home, the typical city dweller must cope with a continuing barrage of unpleasant sounds.”
The writer continues,” Travelling home from work provides no relief from the noisiness of the office. The ordinary sounds of blaring taxi horns and rumbling buses are occasionally punctuated by the ear-piercing screech of car brakes.”
He added that ”Taking the shortcut home will bring the weary worker face to face with chanting religious groups, freelance musicians, screaming children and barking dogs, which can make eardrums throb in pain.”
One critical environmental challenge confronting the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today is how to control noise pollution in the ever-growing metropolis.
People will be making a big mistake to think the problem is synonymous with Accra only. Several media discussions and articles written on the subject in this country have always mentioned Accra but that is a half-truth.
The situation in Kumasi is as critical as that in Accra and it appears the authorities have difficulties in finding solutions to it.
Noise pollution, according to experts, is as dangerous as any other kind of pollution. They argue that the endless pressure of noise could, among others, trigger the breakdown of the nervous system and create bouts of depression.
The problem has always prevailed in the urban centres where a combination of natural and artificial noise continue to take their toll on the people.
Unknown to many, Kumasi is one city that is gradually becoming an epicentre of noise pollution in the country and the future looks bleak if the KMA and the EPA fail to act decisively.
Kumasi is home to perhaps the biggest chunk of Ghana’s charismatic churches. The noise churned out by charismatic churches are so terrible that the citing of some of the churches in some areas within the city have come under protest.
Some people fail to admit it but one major source of noise pollution that Ghana’s EPA has had to contend with has been the charismatic churches.
A Ghanaian newspaper once reported that a number of complaints have been filed at the EPA against churches that play loud music, shout, sing loudly and dance all-night, and as the EPA threatened court action, some of the affected churches' leaders allegedly called the EPA office to insult and curse officials.
Industrial noise is also a major source of noise pollution in the city. Industrial noise pollution, according to health experts, leads to hearing impairments among workers.
a study to ascertain industrial noise pollution and its effects on the hearing capabilities of workers in Ghana, was conducted by C.A. Boateng and G.K. Amedofu of the Department of Biological Sciences of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. the procedure adopted included noise measurements, audiometric evaluation and assessment of medical history.
The results from the study indicated that noise levels in corn mills and sawmills exceed 85 decibels (dBA) while the average noise level measured in the printing industry was 85 dBA.
A sound level of 85 dBA or higher poses a significant risk of permanent hearing loss if one is exposed to it for eight hours per day.
The study further revealed that 23 per cent, 20 per cent and 7.9 per cent of workers in corn mills, sawmills and the printing industry have traces of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
Again, a highly significant correlation was found between noise exposure level, duration of exposure and the development of NIHL in corn mills and sawmills but not in the printing presses.
Hearing impairment was also observed at the speech frequencies among some of the workers exposed to hazardous noise. These findings suggest that more specific intervention is required to protect workers exposed to such hazards at the workplaces.
Against the background that Kumasi has the largest concentration of timber companies in the country and a significantly large number of corn mills, one can imagine the danger that workers in such companies face from noise pollution.
One other source of noise pollution in Kumasi is funerals. Ashantis do not joke with funerals. It is the period to say goodbye to the departed and the occasion is associated with all sorts of noise. On such occasions, loud music, mostly from large, blaring loudspeakers is played.
In the past when keeping wake for departed ones was the norm, people faced sleepless nights and restlessness.
Kumasi also experiences another hazard called street jams. These normally take place during festive periods and people celebrate the occasions by playing loud music, sometimes with live bands on the streets. These most often take place without the approval of the city authorities.
In these days of mounting unemployment, some young people have devised a way of selling audio and video compact discs. With loudspeakers mounted on vehicles, they play music loudly on the streets, as a way of marketing their products.
This happens even though the KMA has bye-laws regulating the sale of such products. The bye-laws are derived from Section 79 of the Local Government Act, 1993 (Act, 462), which states that, “No person shall use any place for sale of record or other recorded music, unless the place has been inspected, approved and licensed by the Assembly.”
To ensure that noise pollution is controlled in the metropolis, the KMA must act decisively. The bye-laws of the assembly are clear about the consequences, in the event of a contravention of the bye-laws of the assembly and this must be applied to the letter.
People will also operate beyond their limits, given the freedom the do so, and until the KMA decides to bite, people will continue to take them for granted.