Checking spread of phone masts: Telecom Towers Banned (Front Page)
The mounting of telecommunications masts and towers in the country has been banned until further notice. The directive communicating the ban is contained in a letter dated January 12, 2010 from the Minister of Environment Science and Technology (MEST) to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
It also announced the establishment of an inter-sectoral committee comprising personnel from the EPA, the National Communications Authority (NCA), the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) and National Security to produce guidelines that would bring some order in the way communication towers are being erected all over the country.
According to the EPA, about 50 per cent of all communications masts in the country were erected by service providers who did not obtain
the required permit.
In recent times, the rampant installation of telecommunication masts throughout the county has raised concern over public health and safety. And the rush for land for that purpose has stirred some land disputes, sometimes sparking public protests and conflicts.
Last year, a mass protest was staged in Accra when a telecommunications mast erected by one of the service providers collapsed at Ashale-Botwe, killing one person and injuring another.
A number of similar occurrences had been followed by petitions against the unregulated mounting of masts in residential areas, which were sent to the Ministry, the EPA and NCA but the letter gave the assurance that “the exercise will signal an end of the avalanche of petitions received on daily basis.
In other jurisdictions, the increasing public rejection of telecommunication masts in residential areas has produced landmark rulings in France, Belgium and Canada against sitting such structures at places of habitation as well as legal precedents requiring mobile phone network operators to provide evidence of what they have done to minimize public exposure to their base stations because of the health hazards.
According to the EPA, while some of the telecommunication operators do not obtain permit before putting up their structures, others go ahead with work on such structures prior to starting the procedure for acquiring the permit, thereby, violating the EPA’s Environmental Assessment Regulation.
Consequently, close to 50 percent of the telecommunication mast put up in the Greater Accra region alone country does not have its permit.
Speaking to the Daily Graphic on the issue, the Deputy-Director in charge of the Accra Office, Mr Kwabena Badu-Yeboah said the situation is not different from other parts of the country.
He said the EPA’s capacity to deal with public complaints had been severely hampered by inadequate human resource and logistics.
“We still have a backlog of complaints filled in 2009 which we are still dealing with.”
He said the public’s perceived health hazards concerning the masts were because of inadequate public education on the issue.
Mr Badu-Yeboah said the alternative now was co-location for the mast to ensure that the companies share the same mask mounted at the designated places to ultimately “reduce the number of mast mounted all over the place.”
To mount a mast, a telecom operator needs separate permits from the EPA Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies in addition to written neighbourhood approval from the people living close to the location where the mast would be erected.
He said the EPA on some occasions had to refuse the processing of the permits in places like Dzorwulu, Alajo and Maamobi adding that aside the health concerns which were the root of most of the complaints, the EPA was very much cautious about the structural integrity of some of the mast mounted around the country.
But Mr Badu-Yeboah observed that with no prosecution taking place, some of the telecommunication companies even change the mask specifications approved by the his outfit.
When contacted to speak to the issue, the Deputy Minister of the MEST, Dr Edward Kofi Omane Boamah confirmed the directive, saying the decision was to enable the stakeholders review and strengthen the drafted document which would help bring sanity into the industry so far the sitting of such structures were concerned.
Dr Boamah appealed to the operators and members of the affected communities to co-operate with the Ministry and the other players in the industry as lasting solutions are found to the challenge.
Meanwhile, available information on the World Health Organization website on base stations and wireless technologies states that, “considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no scientific evidence that the weak Radio Frequency (FR) signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.
It, however, urged national authorities to adopt international standards to protect their citizens against adverse levels of RF fields. It said there was the need to should restrict access to areas where exposure limits may be exceeded.