Turn it down, please: I’m a borga (part 1) Featured

By Kofi Boadu Oppong October 16, 2019 2285 176 comments

Often Ghanaian diasporans return home and observe with awe, in some cases decades later, how things are done in the country they left behind. They do so because, in many situations, things have not changed much from the days of our grandparents ‒ and are done very differently from their new countries of abode.

Whining by returnees is therefore common, to the annoyance of their fellow Ghanaians. The writer is one such returnee; his despatches in this column try to offer suggestions for how Ghana can bring itself into line with standard practice in the 21st century.

Holler out to God: churches are among the worst offenders

Surrounded by sound

Excessive noise is the first discomfiting thing one encounters right after emerging from the arrivals hall of Kotoka Airport. There are too many people talking too loudly, even in normal conversation. Stepping outside, you are welcomed by a chorus of loudly honking car horns. And it doesn’t get any better in residential areas.

There is noise from many sources: markets, churches, mosques, traffic and so on. This is very different from what happens in many of the advanced countries.

An article by researchers from the University of Ghana Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies (UGIESS) describes the experience of town and city dwellers in Ghana:

“An important environmental hazard facing Ghana today is noise pollution. Noise has become a norm in urban residencies, to the extent that one can be said to be blessed to have a good night’s sleep at least once a week. A typical urban resident’s day begins with loud dawn broadcasts by evangelists claiming to be preaching damnation for sin, coupled with the loud Muslim calls to prayer through amplified loudspeakers. This is followed by a drive through heavy … traffic, with taxis and trotros honking their horns for passengers to their various destinations. In the day, you may be lucky to be away from commercial centres or industrial areas. On return home, one is met with the blaring of music from corner shops, over which you have no control. This usually continues from dusk to dawn, and is then taken over again by the religious sects. This is the predicament residents have to go through almost every day.”

This account does not even include the noise from nightclubs and the all-night prayer sessions in churches.

So, what is noise? Noise is unwanted sound judged to be unpleasant, loud or disruptive to hearing. By this definition, therefore, even sound from a praise and worship centre or citations and incantations from a mosque or nice music from a nightclub can become NOISE to another person, depending on the timing, sound level, location of source and so on. Is excessive noise a danger to health? The answer is emphatically YES. Let’s look at the science here.

“Noise travels through air and is measured in ambient air quality level. Noise is measured in decibels. Experts believe that continuous noise levels in excess of 90 decibels can cause loss of hearing and irreversible changes in nervous systems. The World Health Organisation [WHO] has fixed 45 decibels as the safe noise level for a city. In Ghana permissible ambient noise as set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for residential areas requires that, during the day, noise levels should not be above 55dB and 48dB at night” (EPA, 2008).

To appreciate fully what these guidelines mean, normal conversation is about 60dB, a lawnmower is about 90dB and a loud rock concert is about 120dB. In general, sounds above 85dB are harmful, depending on how long and how often you are exposed to them, and whether you wear ear protection. But any sound that is loud enough and lasts long enough can damage your hearing and lead to hearing loss.

Other illnesses reported in the research by the UGEISS show that continuous noise causes an increase in cholesterol levels, making the individual prone to heart attacks and strokes. Health experts believe that excessive noise can also lead to neurosis and nervous breakdown. Stephen Stansfeld and Rosanna Crombie (2011) and Elise Kempen et al (2006) reported that there is a possible association between environmental noise exposure and hypertension.

Exposure to acute noise influences the body’s compensatory mechanics to stress (Christian Maschke et al, 2000; Wolfgang Babisch, 2002); causes the arteries to constrict; increases blood pressure (Berglund et al, 2000), and may contribute to heart attacks. Noise is also known to cause learning disabilities (Peter Moszynski, 2011) as well as deafness.

Duty to protect

It is for these reasons that the people of Ghana have given authority to Parliament and other state agencies to make laws and guidelines on sound in our communities so that individuals can worship God or Allah, sell merchandise, party at nightclubs and so on without being an inconvenience or danger to the health of other citizens who do not want to be a party to such activities. This is what happens in all progressive countries and Ghana is expected to be one. Respecting such laws and directives is for the good of all citizens.

It is not clear if any of the usual sources of excessive noise have any idea of these limits recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It can also be said that the EPA and the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) have made little or no effort to educate citizens about their responsibility concerning noisemaking in the community. There are no education programmes, or public advertisements on radio and television, on noise pollution.

In my opinion, it is the government’s responsibility to protect the vulnerable and the ignorant; that is why laws have been made towards our welfare and why agencies have been set up and are funded by the taxpayer to do that job. What is the use of the laws and agencies if the specific problems persist?

Don’t make some noise

The church services I have attended in Ghana are noisy. I have measured sound levels as high as 85dB and 110dB (at one prayer service where the congregation leader screamed into the microphone while plugging one ear with his finger). The EPA recommendation is 65dB.

There are stacks of broken loudspeaker boxes with the newest ones sitting on top, apparently because of wrong operation of sound systems. Most devices are designed to operate at 75 per cent of the optimum level. However, the situation which obtains in most churches is that these machines are operated at near 100 per cent for long periods of time. So it is common in churches to see piles of broken loudspeakers.

Mothers with toddlers are also a common sight in churches. These children are subjected to excessive noise, sometimes even sitting right next to the speakers. They are likely to suffer hearing loss in later years, as happened to so many rock musicians in years past, before use of ear protectors became common. I don’t know if the pastors are given training on the negative effects of excessive sound.

Town planning is so bad that no place is set aside for noisemaking in communities. MMDAs are therefore giving out permits to individuals to change residential plots into churches, bars, mosques, and so on. They then completely disregard the inconvenience caused to neighbours. In reality, such permits should not be allowed but business owners and faith leaders manage to get them. Ghana has laws and we all have to abide by these laws but some pastors ignore the biblical quotation which exhorts Christians to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). If you know you are breaking the law in the process of worshipping God, such worship, in my opinion, will not be pleasing to God. It is wrong to break the law deliberately just to serve your God or make money.

It is so easy to respect the guidelines, yet this is not done. However, I am certain that in the near future people will begin to take such activities to court to ensure the law is enforced. The recent case of two churches at Haatso in Accra which were fined by a court is only the beginning.

All-night sessions by churches and bars are even worse. It is punishing to disturb anyone’s sleep so I regard it as sinful to use speakers over the permitted level of 48dB. Perhaps the most unreasonable noisemaking is the recorded prayer tapes which blare from some mosques all night, even when there is no one and nothing going on at the location. This is quite common during Ramadan. It is not very clear who the expected listeners are. The obvious result is merely to disturb the sleep of residents.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 16 October 2019 07:24

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