Editorial: Yen.com.gh contributor and freelance writer, Daniel Dela Dunoo takes a look at the environmental impact of illegal small scale mining, known as 'Galamsey' in Ghana, taking inspiration from Margaret Mead's quote: “We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.”
Ghana is rich in mineral resources, such as gold, ivory, diamond, manganese and many more. Consequently, mining operations are constantly being carried out communities, usually in remote areas that have these rich deposits. Gold operations (and by extension other forms of mining such as the mining of diamond) in Ghana are in two sectors, the large scale sector and the small scale sector. Generally, any mining operation with concession up to 25 acres is considered a small-scale mine.
Admittedly, Ghana is confronted with a number of serious environmental challenges. These include land degradation, coastal erosion, pollution of rivers and lagoons, deforestation, desertification and waste management. This article seeks to explore the illegal small scale mining industry in Ghana with the specific intent of identifying its impact on the environment. Such an expose may help draw some attention to this sector and contribute to finding a lasting solution to this menace.
The prospects of mining in Ghana can be very lucrative if well monitored and regulated, especially, setting up environmentally-conscious practices and provision of social responsibilities and amenities like standard schools, good drinking water, electricity, recreational centers, market places, hospitals etc. to the local communities.
Small scale mining has been defined as an artisanal or small industrial form of raw material extraction. It is estimated that there are about 300 registered small-scale mining groups and they constitute a major source of employment especially for small scale gold and diamond miners, and contribute some foreign exchange to Ghana`s economy.
However, there are a lot more of such groups that are not registered. The operations of this category of miners is essentially termed illegal small scale mining, also known in Ghanaian parlance as “galamsey.’ The laws of Ghana frowns on mining operations that are not backed by the requisite licenses from the appropriate authorities and that are carried out haphazardly, not only because of the loss of revenue to the state as in taxes but more importantly its huge negative impact on the environment and by extension on humans. Consequently government after government has done its bit to stem the tide but the corpse has refused time and again to stay put in the grave, as it were.
Mining is majorly not eco-friendly; it always takes a toll on the fertility of the land no matter how carefully it is done (and even when carried out by both large scale mining companies and legal small scale miners). The operations of illegal small scale miners have left several acres of land across the country, especially in mining areas desolate and degraded, leaving in their wake trenches and holes which have become death traps. The lands are also polluted, making it unfit for Agricultural purposes. Chemicals used for extracting gold for instance, mercury, cyanide and other complex chemicals are discharged into the soil. These have deprived the land of its natural properties.
Pollution of water bodies
Rivers and streams nearby that serve as a source of drinking water and that are used for other domestic use for communities downstream suffer massively from pollution. For instance, the Birim and Densu rivers in the Eastern region of Ghana which serve as a source of drinking water for several communities have been gravely affected by small-scale mining activities.
On the 14 of May, 2013, The Ghana News Agency carried a report on its website with the headline, “President Mahama Inaugurates Inter-Ministerial Galamsey Taskforce.” It stated that the president inaugurated a five member taskforce to fight against illegal small scale mining throughout the mining areas of the country. The taskforce was mandated to seize all equipments of illegal mining operators, arrest and prosecute both Ghanaian and non-Ghanaians involved in illegal small scale mining, depot non-Ghanaians found culpable, and revoke the licenses of Ghanaians who have sub-leased their concessions to non-Ghanaians.
Shortly after the taskforce was inaugurated, there were news reports almost on a daily basis on the screens, on the airwaves and in print about the arrest of illegal small scale miners and the seizure of equipments. Many foreigners involved in this illegal business were arrested and deported. By and large, the efforts of the Inter-Ministerial taskforce yielded some positive results. Significant inroads were made on the route to stemming the tide. But truth be told, there simply is more to be done. It is an open secret that illegal small scale mining is still thriving in some remote communities, more so when we hardly hear of the operations of the Inter-Ministerial task force in recent times. The idea is not to lay blame at any one`s doorstep but to encourage a sustained and holistic fight against this menace. It obviously is a drain on our economy, and unbridled pollution of water bodies and lands as earlier noted.
An all hands on deck approach
It is at this point I wish to start that all hands must be on deck to nip this canker in the bud as much as practicable and as soon as possible. The fight against galamsey must be a concern to all, especially the chiefs and landowners; as custodians of the land and the governments who own the resources. It should be the concern to people living in and around communities’ galamsey activities are on-going and should of cause be a cause for concern for the entire citizenry of our beloved country. Chiefs and people who reside close to mining areas ought to lodge reports to the appropriate authorities whenever they site small scale mining operations that seem suspicious.
Non-Governmental Organizations that are into environmental advocacy must intensify their advocacy. This will help to educate the public, change perceptions and attitudes and also mount pressure on policy makers to fashion out the requisite policies and ensure their thorough implementation to help nib this canker in bud.
Governmental agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Water Resources Commission, Forestry Commission and district assemblies must be seen to be working. They must deliver on their mandate at safeguarding the environmental sanity of our motherland. We must save the earth; our earth; yes-we must save our eco-system from degradation and pollution. Yes, we can and yes we must, at all cost!