Galamsey: A Curse in a Mess?

galamseySo I’ve been away for the past few days contributing my quota as an engineer to Ghana’s Oil & Gas sector. My little escapade took me hundreds of feet into the sky to the destination I was headed making me have an ample view of Ghana’s supposed beautiful land. The sight was merely scattered buildings built without planning and a stretch of cars moving with red lights like red ants queuing for white sugar under street lights which were like ‘bobo’ dangling in the blackness of darkness.

The rivers were what caught my attention the most. Their colour was murky brown like hot beverage made from richoco and poured into the middle of white tea bread. I am not exaggerating. Even the sea, which has been effaced and defaced with dried decaying defecation, floating on top of black and white rubber bags, had more dignity to view than that which is a source of water to millions of Ghanaians. It was an eyesore.

The damaged caused by galamsey operators in the quest for finding the most valuable metal has been devastating and obviously at a huge cost to our development. Forests have been depleted, rivers polluted, and people buried alive in the pits they dig. In June 2010 for example, 150 were killed at Dunkwa-on-Offin when a mine got flooded. Only 17 bodies were recovered from this catastrophe.

In their operations, they use machines produced from China and assembled in Ghana. Heavy duty pontoons are also now employed in sucking the silt from the riverbeds and dumping it together with all sorts of dangerous chemicals which are used in processing gold such as mercury, engine oil, cyanide and others back into the rivers. As a result, aquatic life has been destroyed and fishes poisoned. The Ghana Water Company revealed during one of Anas Aremeyaw Anas documentaries that the chemicals which are used in processing the water have increased from 45mg to 75mg per litre. Mind you they also added that they have no equipment for testing for mercury or even treating the harmful substance. You can imagine what have been flowing through our pipes. I have also chanced across reports which indicate that Ghana’s pipe water is unsafe for drinking.

It has been estimated that about 60% of those in the mining industry are illegal miners despite existence of laws such as PNDC Law 153 and PNDC Law 218 to regulate the sector. The March 13, 2010 edition of the Ghana Business News reported that “there has been incessant and blatant depletion of more than 80% of forest reserves in these mining communities, and the heavy pollution of the Birim, Ankobra, and Pra Rivers which have been the main source of drinking water for the inhabitants over the years.”

According to the World Bank Group “small-scale mining is largely a poverty-driven activity typically practiced in the poorest and most remote rural areas of a country by a largely itinerant, poorly educated populace with few employment alternatives.” One of the women who lost her husband in the June 2010 incident stated that she has no option than to make one of her children who happens to have completed one of the levels of education to go continue in the trade since there are no jobs in her community. A publication by Dennis Owusu Boateng in the International Journal for Advance Agricultural Research showed that 80% of the people in galamsey are into it because it offers quick money. A report by Carson 2005 and Hilton & Potter 2003, indicated that over half of those employed in galamsey are women and children.

Many of these operations are funded by foreign nationals like the Chinese in collaboration with the indigenes. Surprisingly, all these have been under the noses of authorities who only seem to blow hot air-filled with promises from their tracheas instead of cracking down this menace yet are able to construct roads in minutes during election periods. Despite this rush for gold, the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (GPRSP) indicated that forestry provided a greater contribution to national income than mining.

In May this year, Peruvian president Ollanta Humala had to declare a state of emergency in his part of the Amazon jungle as levels of mercury from illegal mining reached record high levels. Know that the Amazon produces 20% of the world’s oxygen. What will happen if it was lost? If we are to wait till we get to the level of Peru before declaring a state of emergency in Ghana, then it would be too late and the gods will not be blamed for their habitats which were once protected by traditional authorities for many a century have long been destroyed. Article 257 (6) of Ghana’s constitution vests all mineral and natural resources in the President of the Republic hence it will be his duty to oversee that this menace is brought to an end.

I happen to agree with key points delivered by the Okyehene Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin at a public lecture in Koforidua on August 12, 2015. He suggested that the following measures be taken by involving communities and traditional authorities in fighting galamsey. That a legal and policy regime that will recognise the right of the youth to small-scale mining and institute effective regulatory measures be implemented; such regime will involve agencies that will enforce environment and health standards; the provision of training for the youth in small scale mining technology and other related small scale industries related to mining, including and management tools through the effective linkage with technical training institutions; and a comprehensive strategy for an integrated small scale mining industry that will create the basis for sustainable livelihoods.

I will like to conclude with the words of Anas Aremeyaw Anas from his video Africa Investigates: Ghana Gold way back in 2011. “We have shown that this illegal and dangerous business is like the rivers themselves, polluted by corruption. It is the children I think about. The children who are lured away from a life of proper education to a life of hard labour, working for criminals for little money and a lot of risk. What’s needed is government’s regulation and enforcement to protect our children, our environment, and our future.”

My name is Kotey.

Good morning.

 

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