The recent Two-Day Stakeholders Dialogue On Sustainable Natural Resource Management in Accra is over.
Unfortunately, key stakeholders in the mining or potential mining landscapes, like the activists in Atewa opposed to bauxite mining in Atewa Forest Reserve; Mantukwa and Sefwi Atronsu activists and cocoa farmers who oppose community mining because it will pollute their land and water bodies and destroy their livelihood, were not at the table.
Did we learn anything new about the clear and present danger we face from ongoing criminal mining activity that we didn't know before the Dialogue?
Before the Dialogue, we were aware of deaths from irresponsible digging of open pits, poisoning of our land and water bodies with mercury, cyanide etc, reports of kidney disease, birth defects, destruction of farmlands and crops, and polluted land giving rise to food security concerns and so on. In addition, Ghana Water Company had told us that at this rate, we may soon need to import water.
What we need is the political will to act to protect the environment. The President said he was prepared to put his presidency on the line to stop illegal mining. Unfortunately under his watch, Environmental Vandalism has reached catastrophic levels.
The President noted at the opening of the Dialogue that illegal mining and logging posed a threat to our very survival. But what specific measures are being taken to get rid of this menace and protect the environment God has given us and tasked us to take care of?
There has been no visible action on JoyFM News' documentary 'Gold For Destruction', where persons in military attire appeared to be protecting illegal miners.
The directors of Akonta Mining have not been held accountable for allegedly destroying parts of Tano Nimiri Forest Reserve.
Mr. Allotey, the CEO of Forestry Commission, who stated that he has no objection to mining in a forest reserve, when the mandate of the Forestry Commission is to protect our forests, is still at post.
To make matters worse, whilst lip service has been paid to protecting our forest reserves, the Environmental Protection (Mining In Forest Reserves) Regulations 2022 Legislative Instrument ( L.I.) 2462, was passed as recently as November 2022.
Section 3 (2) of the said L.I. 2462 makes it possible to mine in a 'globally significant biodiversity area', such as Atewa Forest Reserve, if deemed “in the national interest” and with approval in writing" from the President!
Can it ever be in the national interest to destroy the ecosystem and pollute the water supply of the people of Ghana?
Biodiversity is at the heart of our existence and is “essential for the processes that support all life on Earth. Without a wide range of animals, plants and microorganisms, we cannot have the healthy ecosystems that we rely on to provide us with the air we breathe and the food we eat.
“Biodiversity provides vital ecosystem functions, such as soil fertilisation, nutrient recycling, pest and disease regulation, erosion control and crop and tree pollination.”
Some analysts are of the view that the purpose of section 3 (2) of L.I. 2462 is to make it easier to mine bauxite at Atewa Forest Reserve, which we have been warned will pollute the source of water to over 5 million people and destroy endangered plant and animal species.
We should reflect on the fact that the pristine Atronsu stream at Sefwi Atronsu was recently polluted, and according to activists on the ground, this was due to bauxite mining activities of Ghana Bauxite Company, a licensed mining company. The company says it is investigating the matter.
We have all been urged to be responsible, but is it responsible to allow mining in a globally significant biodiversity area? How can it possibly be in the national interest to destroy the ecosystem and put our very survival at risk?
To cap it all, Prof. Frimpong Boateng's report has been publicised by the media, after sitting on a Jubilee House desk for about two years. If we care about the state of our environment, we should demand a transparent Public Enquiry into the report. The findings and recommendations of the said Public Enquiry should be made public, so that the report does not sit on anyone's desk, once again avoiding public scrutiny.
We know that mining is not the only source of employment or funding for development.
It was refreshing to hear some participants at the Dialogue workshops talk about the green economy, the value chain, health and pharmaceutical value of our forests, funds from carbon sink, and income that can, for example, be generated from slime on snails. The slime is used in anti-ageing products, etc.
Mining has its challenges, especially as our monitoring regime is weak. We have difficulties monitoring a few big mining companies and can therefore not effectively monitor hundreds of community mining operatives.
It is for this reason that we propose a pause on community mining, until we have robust monitoring and enforcement in place.
We have to consider whether the environmental cost of mining, which includes deforestation and pollution of our land and water bodies, is worth the damage to our health and environment.
We need to grasp the enormity of the Climate Emergency and take action.
Responsible and concerned citizens must join the campaign to protect our environment. The activists and environmental organisations are doing their bit. The media is giving a voice to activists and exposing the scale of the disaster.
The relevant authorities should enforce our laws and offenders should be prosecuted, whether or not they are highly placed or well connected environmental vandals. The polluter pays principle should be enforced.
The citizenry should demand:
1. A public enquiry into Prof. Frimpong Boateng's report.
2. Revocation of Executive Instrument (E.I.) 144 "Forests (Cessation of Forest Reserve) Instrument 2022" declassifying 361.50 acres of Achimota Forest Reserve.
3. Repeal of section 3 (2) of Environmental Protection Mining in Forest Reserves Regulations L.I. 2462, which allows mining in globally significant biodiversity areas.
4. An end to mining in forest reserves.
5. A pause on community mining, until we have an effective monitoring and enforcement regime in place.
Eco-Conscious Citizens coordinator