Ghanaians are struggling to manage the menace of illegal mining which has prolonged over decades but peaked in the last decade with the government setting an inter-ministerial committee and a task force to stop the nuisance activities.
Among the prices Ghanaians are paying for the menace is the Ghana water company publishing a timetable for treated water rationing that has affected large parts of the country due to heavily polluted river bodies from the activities of unregulated gold mining activities.
The Ghana Water Company, the nation’s water supplier, recently warned that their operations are hampered as sources of water for treatment is heavily polluted and it’s affecting their treatment plants and machines in parts of the Central, Western, Eastern regions and the northern part of the country.
It further estimated that, in the ten years from 2008 and 2018 there was a 50% loss of water available for treatment. This tells how critical the situation is with some officials predicting possible water import from neighbouring West African countries.
Again, the Center for Scientific and Industry Research (CSIR) in a report released in 2019 predicted that potable water sources are diminishing at a fast rate that the country faces a looming water crisis by the year 2030, if conditions continue to persist.
Scarier is the fact that there would be no treatable water source, either surface or groundwater by 2030, should the rate at which the country’s water sources are being polluted continue, the Water Research Institute (WRI) of the CSIR warned.
“There is the misconception that Ghana is 70 percent covered with water. Even with the abuses, water will not depart from Ghana but the quality cannot be guaranteed,” the Director of WRI, Dr Joseph Addo Ampofo said in an interview with us.
Dr Ampofo cautioned that the combined effect of the increase in temperature, evaporation and the pollution of the country’s water sources were plunging the country into severe water crisis that would make Ghana a Sahelian country.
Drinking water quality
The Water Aid UK in a report released in May 2018 stated that, Ghana has 1,000 children under five years old dying each year from diarrhoea, caused by polluted water. The lack of clean drinking water and sanitation systems is a severe public health concern in Ghana, contributing to 70% of diseases in Ghana due to unclean water and improper sanitation.
From pieces of jewelry, electronic manufacturing companies to dental rooms, gold and other precious metals are being used for various purposes. Gold has a positive impact on a nation’s GDP and it also creates job opportunities for the community.
The small-scale and illegal mining sector in Ghana employs more than a million people, and has popular appeal in a country where unemployment and poverty are rife.
In Ghana, the mining industry accounts for 5% of the country’s GDP and minerals takes up 37% of the total export with gold accounting for 90% of the mineral export. Ghana is the second-largest gold producer in Africa.
Notwithstanding the fact that the mining sector contributes to the government’s revenue, it also has serious negative impacts on the environment and to miners. The illegal mining sector in Ghana is plagued by several environmental and health problems. Several accidents have occurred and in some cases, this has led to fatalities in the mines. A few years back, at least 17 people were killed while mining illegally at a disused gold mine in Ghana’s central region. The ground caved in on the miners as they searched for gold deposits.
Another serious impact is the health hazards as a result of pollution from gases, noise, dust and polluted water.
Field visit (Twifo Praso)
In our quest to gather firsthand information on the situation; Economy Times’s Adnan Adams Mohammed and Ousmane Mohammed of Aljazeera TV visited Twifo Praso, located in the Central region stretched along the Pra river which is a popular mining community.
As we entered the popular mining town in one of the regions in the country, we saw a group of young men sitting under a tree for shade and buying time for the night to fall so they could go back to bed as they had no job or work to do. They shared their worries with us as some of them live testimony to the health hazards of illegal mining as they have a deformity on their hands due to working as miners.
Kofi (not real name), who had his finger almost cut off while working at a mining site, narrated how government’s fight against illegal mining in Ghana led him to Cote D’Ivoire to continue with the same mining.
The former miner shared some of the advantages and disadvantages of illegal mining. “The mining work has a lot of advantages and disadvantages. Some of the advantages are that I was able to provide money and other needs of my family back home in the Volta region. I was able to cater for three of siblings’ education to the Senior High School (SHS) until the government decided to enforce a total ban on a small scale and illegal mining in the country.
Some of the disadvantages are that because it is an illegal work we are doing, the police harass us almost all the time and in the course of we running away from the Police some miners do fall in the muddy pits full of wastewater. Those who cannot swim do die while others do get severely injured.”
At the mining site
On our journey to the mining site, we passed through a dangerous jungle forest with an unmotorable road. It was a struggle to get to the hidden place where illegal mining activities take place. The miners chose this hidden place in an attempt to outwit the anti-illegal mining task force made up of the military and police.
A clear link of the mining activities having serious consequence on the environment, economic trees (cocoa, plantain), fishing and the water body was identified as we followed the chain from the running polluted water from the improvised machine washing the gravels back to the Pra river.
We saw the heavily polluted river body (river Pra) which is one of the sources of water for treatment by Ghana Water Company in the Central and Western regions. Also, children under 15 years old were sited engaging in sand wining activities from the banks of river Pra worsening the pollution. They sell the sand for building construction purpose as a source of income.
At the mining site, where we met few youths engaged in the routine activities in the mining for gold. They refused us to capture their faces due to fear of being identified and chased by the anti-illegal mining taskforce.
We saw a ‘pumping machine’ drawing water from the river Pra for the mining process (washing of the gravels and gold dust/sand). This water after it is used for the washing is directed back into the river Pra to worsen the polluted nature of it.
At the end of the process, we were shown the quantity of gold (a quarter of a karat) they got from the whole day activities which could be sold for about US$120 to be shared by 5 workers.
Joe, had one of wrist amputated while he was working on mining site in 2017 without benefiting from any insurance package nor compensation from the owner of the company he was working for. During our visit at a mining site, we met him busily working with only one full arm. He narrated his situation and reservations about the mining work to us.
“There are no decent jobs for the uneducated and poor youth in this town and the country at large. If we had some form of vocational, technical and artworks skills training opportunities available to us by the government, it would have been better for us. But the government is not helping us, yet, harassing and depriving us of our daily bread from working at the mining sites.
“When you look around in this, there are many youths among the population, due to the unavailability of jobs for them, some have resorted to stealing with some allegedly being involved in armed robbery. But I do not want to be that type of person that is why I struggle to work even with my one hand. The government should help us”, he pleaded.
At Komenda Raw Water Intake Station and Treatment Plant
The shortage of treated water supply was manifested as the people resorted in using borehole water. In the film are some children pumping to pull water for household use. We also saw some children bathing in a stream heavily polluted and unsafe for their health.
At the Ghana Water Company raw water intake station, situated along the river Pra downside from Twifo Praso where we witnessed illegal mining activities taking place, we saw evidence of how mercury and cyanide have deposited on the surface of the water being pumped to the treatment plant.
At the water treatment station located in the Komenda Edina Municipality, we met the workers busily monitoring the routine process of water treatment. We could see how the heavily polluted water source was severely hampering smooth operations as they had to regularly open the down pumps to allow muddy water to pass away.
The Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) and the Minerals Commission are currently validating a proposed amendment to the mining laws of Ghana. They recently held a workshop organised for civil society organisations within the mining sector to make input in the validation process.
Nasir Alfa Mohammed, Policy Advocacy Advisor at the Natural Resources Governance Institute (NRGI) told Economy Times at the sideline of the workshop that, the challenge associated with the small scale and illegal mining can be tackled easily when there is sincere political will by the politicians and policy implementers.
Several attempts have been made to speak to the Minerals Commission and Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources to know what the government says about the ongoing illegal mining despites government policies to stop illegal mining proved unsuccessful.
Source: Adnan Adams Mohammed