Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Saving Ghana's Environment

Ghana: Kakum National Park
For the first time, I decided to re blog a whole piece from Joseph Philip L Ziem, the author of this insightful article who is a journalist by profession.  Read on.......

There is growing consensus by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and even ordinary Ghanaians that improved governance in the natural resource and environment sector of Ghana could translate into more unbiased resource distribution and poverty reduction. 

This move could be attributed to the increasing spate of vigorous campaigns being mounted by CSOs like KASA-Ghana, Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM Ghana) and the Media Advocates for Sustainable Environment (MASE) in recent times; drawing the attention of the public to the fact that any form of mining activity, in or around natural habitats (forest or game reserves, water bodies, etc) is as venomous as the reptile, COBRA! 

There is no doubt that gold ranks among the most high-tech of metals, performing vital functions in many areas of everyday life. Its unique properties make it useful in medical applications, pollution control, air bags, mobile telephones, laptop computers, space travel, and many other things human beings consider essential to today's society. 

Almost all electronic consumer items contain a small amount of gold, which is important to the reliable and efficient functioning of the equipment. 

Besides, from its early historical use in ancient cultures, gold is becoming increasingly important in many modern medical treatments, ranging from drugs to precision implants. Gold has been used for many years to successfully treat rheumatoid arthritis. Many experts consider gold to be among the most effective drugs for reducing the inflammation in the joints and so reducing the symptoms of pain and stiffness. The economic significance of this mineral can’t therefore, be underestimated. 

However, the fact also remains that, the process of extracting gold from the mined ore uses poisonous chemicals which, if not treated properly, can contaminate water supplies and kill living things for miles. This is in addition to the local damage at the mining site itself, i.e., the hole in the mountain or the ground thereby making it impossible to grow our cocoa, coffee, rice, groundnuts, maize, millet, sorghum, etc, again. It is sad to note that mining companies in Ghana are ‘raping’ our natural resources with impunity regardless of all the environmental laws and fundamental human rights which our government is signatory to.

This is because, gold mining in Ghana has been seriously considered by the government of Ghana and international financial institutions as the path to economic development but it also has a long history of destruction. Besides, gold mining has been going on many years even before many Ghanaians in this 21st century were born, yet Ghana is still poor considering its per capita income, unemployment rate, poor health delivery, lack of health and educational facilities, unavailability of housing for some people like residents of Sodom and Gomorrah and many other places in the country, etc.

There are reported cases of massive destruction of towns, houses, farms, water bodies, etc, at Wassa, Prestea, Obuasi, Tarkwa, just to mention a few. And my understanding is that, mining companies are moving towards the North where residents like me are already suffering from the bad effects of desertification, climate change, lack of portable drinking water due to the extreme low levelness of the water table in most areas, erratic rainfall, etc. Any attempt to mine any part of the North, would make life unbearable for residents, and land, chieftaincy or ethnic disputes could increase. 

Besides, the area is already battling with efforts to combat deforestation or desertification through afforestation, land and chieftaincy disputes, among others and all the mining companies in Ghana which I learnt have bad records of human rights abuses and disregard for good environmental practices, are also radically yearning to come with their unending woes, to add to what is yet to be solved. It is unimaginable! 

Not too long ago, cyanide-contaminated waste spilled from the Ahafo mine operated by Newmont Ghana Gold Limited (NGGL) on October 8, 2009 into a river, killing hundreds of fishes and polluting the drinking water of several communities. This is gross human rights abuse even though they had been charged to compensate the affected people, communities and government with an amount of 4.9 million dollars or Gh¢7 million. 

Records showed that the first phase of the mine (Ahafo South) has displaced roughly 9,500 people, at least 95% of whom are subsistence farmers. A possible expansion of the mine (Ahafo North), would displace another 10,000 more. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank's private sector arm, approved $175 million in loans to Newmont for the development of the Ahafo project in spite of calls for the IFC to postpone the Ahafo loan and independent reviews highlighting the problems with the project.

Fellow Ghanaians, it would interest you to know that all the monies the mining companies get from their negative extractive activities are deposited in offshore accounts. Apart from that, our government receives not more than even 20% as its share of the gold or revenue from each of the mining companies you can think of. 

In Ghana now, there is more concern for the environment due to the consistent and vigorous campaigns by CSOs and the media, but there are still mining operations where little to no environmental consideration is given to the operations. Mining companies are doing things with impunity. 
It is undisputable that Ghana is Africa's second largest producer of gold after South Africa. Due to favorable investment climate created by our leaders (politicians), it is estimated that 70% to 90% of the large-scale mining industry is now foreign-owned. 

Records by WACAM-Ghana indicated that gold mining in Ghana started some 2000 years ago even before the arrival of Portuguese traders and other Europeans. Gold also accounts for about 96% of the total mineral revenue, and currently mining boom has attracted about US 6 billion dollars worth of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the extractive sector of the country as at 2005, representing about 60% of FDI inflows to the national economy. 

As at 2006, the government of Ghana had granted 166 new mining leases to companies to operate surface mining. This means; more environmental degradation, water, air and land pollution, deforestation, destruction of farmlands, in fact, a total destruction of our natural habitats right from the South to the North. …….

According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 35% of the total landmass of Ghana is under threat of desertification but current estimates and observations shows that 60% of the landmass is actually under threat. 


This is because, traces of desertification could be seen in neighbouring Bono Ahafo and Ashanti Regions and certain timber species that make up the vegetation of the forest in those areas are getting loss each day. Besides, the 35% given by the EPA was as a result of a research in the 70s and for that matter it should noted that there has been considerable changes over the years up to date. 

The three Northern Regions which occupy about 40% of the total landmass of the country is the worst affected by desertification. Why would our government sit down unconcern and allow a mining company like Newmont and the rest to mine in forest reserves, when common sense tells us that the more trees we cut down invariably affects our very existence on planet earth. 
Or is it because there are millions of ounces of gold in these forest reserves? If that is the case, then it means that Ghanaians are giving out their heads in exchange for hats that would have no place to reside. 

Our politicians are indeed killing us but because we don’t mostly see or know their secret deeds, we think they’re angels. But I think they’re next to hell! They take all the decisions including those that deprive us of our daily bread as a people, rob us of our birth rights as a nation without seeking our opinion. 

And I ask my self over and over again, are we still living in the Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana, which he together with other right thinking people fought to liberate from emancipation decades ago? In fact, I believe wherever he might be he would not have peace of mind because of the selfishness of those who have come after him.

I understand there is a gold bearing rock running from the South to the North and it is obvious that our government is prepared to allow mining companies cut down all economic trees including shea, mahogany, mango, cocoa, dawadawa, seal up our water bodies with waste, spoil the tarred roads we spent millions of dollars or cedis to built, etc. 

I am not exaggerating, but what am trying to explain is that if the aforementioned areas are not enough, our hospitals, schools would not be spared, because in other places cemeteries including what I have already mentioned have been destroyed by mining companies because of the ‘yellow rock’. 

I am reliably informed that most communities in the Bono Ahafo Region are sitting on gigantic gold deposit and for that matter plans are ongoing to relocate those settlements. People of Bono and Ahafo, are you hearing what I am hearing? And if yes, what are you doing? Please, you have to start crying out and make noise like that of KASA-Ghana, WACAM Ghana and MASE, else it will happen like hurricane Katrina and by then it will be too late for you all. 

Let me just explain this to you in clear words. The GH¢7million compensation by Newmont Ghana to the people of Ahafo is just pittance. To them (Newmont) it’s like money meant for buying food ingredients in any local Ghanaian market. 

This is so because, our leaders can’t bite or say no to certain decisions that threaten our lives for the reason that they have been induced with so many freebies by some of these mining companies or multinationals. Compensations like Newmont’s is just to sustain affected persons today and the next day, they perish. 

Just come to think of this; why would Newmont Ghana give 20,000 dollars to our (Alhaji) Collins Dauda, who is the Minister of Land and Mines to perform his mother’s funeral? This suggest that if any close relation of the President passes away, he would receive an amount that could build a six unit classroom block, fully furnished for the children of my hometown who are still sitting under trees to learn, if a minister could receive that much. 

Ghana is a signatory to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has initiated a number of policies and programmes to arrest the spread of land degradation and desertification. The implementation of the National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP), the Environmental Resources Management Project and others like the land use map, environmental information system, land suitability and capability maps, land and water management, Savannah Resource Management and the National Reforestation Programme are worthwhile. 

But the lack of political commitment on the part of our leaders will eventually send us all into our graves unless they change their ATITUDE. I declare that mining is not a panacea to the Ghana’s problems because it only contributes 46 million dollars to the nation whiles bush meat derives 300 million dollars. So, it would be unthinkable to allow Newmont and others to mine in forest reserves.

Folks, I will end hear but also write something to promote the good course I am championing, because; “The earth is a mother, and if we abide by her laws, she would care for us all”……..

....and that was it !.

Full credits to Joseph Philip L Ziem
(ziemjoseph@yahoo.com)

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