Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana's largest natural lake, maybe seating on a potential time bomb as feverish moves are underway to grant Norcan, a Canadian mining company, the permits it needs to enable it explore the area around the lake for gold deposits.
Norcan is a subsidiary of AMI Resources Incorporated, a Vancouver, British Columbia based exploration and development company.
Investigations conducted by this writer revealed that Ghana's Minerals Commission has already granted Norcan prospecting licenses but the company is yet to clear the second and last hurdle, which is the granting of an environmental permit by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Dustin Elford, Norcan's Chief Executive Officer and William Pettigrew, the company's Chief financial officer are already in the country to join forces with their Ghanaian partner Arnold Atitso, a Chartered accountant, to push for the granting of the environmental permit.
Norcan's Beposo holdings, comprising Adumasa, Pemenase and Ankasi projects occupies an area of 135 square kilometres, spanning across Ejisu, Juaben and Ashanti Akim, all in the Ashanti region.
Investigations further revealed that Norcan's Ankasi project, where it intends prospecting for gold, actually borders round lake Bosumtwi, which is an ecologically sensitive area. Any exploratory drilling or prospecting for gold at the Ankasi concession could present an alarming risk to lake Bosumtwi and affect the environmental and social health of the area.
For many Ghanaians, Lake Bosumtwi is a prized resource; its waters support significant numbers of threatened and migratory species of birds, fish and plant species, including a variety of endemic cichlid fishes (Tilapia discolor), which scientists fear could follow the dinosaurs down the road to extinction.
The ecosystem also performs valuable services for the immediate communities such as moderating floods and droughts and sustaining fisheries and tourism. The proposed exploratory drilling or prospecting for mineral deposits in this ecologically fragile area will no doubt alter the ecosystem and affect the communities in the area, who often depend directly on the lake's bounty for their livelihoods.
Subsequent exploitation of gold if it is found in commercial quantities after prospecting could also require the relocation of thousands of people in the area in addition to the environmental impacts such as acid mine drainage, water, soil and crop contamination by heavy metals that is partner to open-pit mining.
Mining, which also moves enormous quantities of earth, will undoubtedly cause siltation of lake Bosumtwi.
An accidental spill of cyanide-laced wastewater could also severely damage the entire lake and related waterways, jeopardize the livelihood and sacred sites of communities living around the lake as well as cause a major imbalance in the ecosystem. With the region being prone to floods, these risks would be vastly increased Investigations have also revealed that NORCAN has not even properly consulted with many traditional leaders and the people in the Bosumtwi area where it intends prospecting for gold.
Located approximately 32 kilometres south east of Kumasi, capital of Ashanti Region, Lake Bosumtwi is believed to have been created by the impact of a meteorite. It lies in a deep circular crater surrounded by very steep hills up to 400 metres high, covered by lush green tropical rain forest.
The lake has a maximum depth of 86 m in the center and apart from providing an opportunity for fishing for the almost 30 small villages dotting the 30-km perimeter of the lake, Bosumtwi is also a favourite tourist destination. Seen from the highway cutting through the surrounding hills, Lake Bosumtwi could easily be mistaken for the crown of a Coca Cola bottle filled with some blue liquid perching precariously between rolling, green-carpeted peaks and the wide blue sky above.
For Ashantis, this large crater lake with a diameter of 10.5km is sacred as legend has it that after death, the soul of an Ashanti goes to Lake Bosumtwi to bid farewell to their god Twi before departing for the afterlife.
There are 11 known species of fish in the lake which provide a source of protein for the surrounding villages. This includes a variety of endemic cichlid fishes (Tilapia discolor” two of which are mouth brooders, meaning a parent holds the live-born fish in their mouth to protect them until they reach a certain stage of development.
It is however forbidden to put metal of any form into the lake and any one who dares incurs the wrath of the gods and is cursed for it. Dug out canoes used extensively on water bodies in various parts of the country are considered a taboo and forbidden on Lake Bosumtwi. Fishermen therefore go out on the lake in wooden planks, and use hand-sized pieces of plywood or with calabashes cupped in their hands as oars. It takes a lot of balance and good posture to avoid falling into the lake.
Scientists believe that the “magic” Lake holds clues to Africa's climate past, a number of local and international limnologists and archaeologists continue to visit the lake and its environs with the hope of unearthing some of its 2 million years old secret.
The spirited move to give Norcan the green light to begin exploratory drilling for gold in the Busomtwi area is seen as part of a grand design to open up as many areas as possible in Ghana to the mining industry.
Any decision to approve the prospecting and subsequent development of this mine makes a mockery of Ghana's environmental regulations and exposes stated commitments to the environment as hollow rhetoric It has been, however, gathered that Norcan has excellent connections and this situation is already creating a power play amongst some key government agencies, as high powered lobbyists push other regulatory bodies to give their blessing to the project.
For many, this development raises a myriad of questions regarding corporate regulation and accountability in the country and is a clear illustration of the disproportionate influence wielded by mining corporations over national environmental policies.
When the Executive Director of Ghana's Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Allotey, was contacted to find out whether the EPA will grant Norcan the environmental permits to enable it proceed with the Ankasi project, he declined to comment on the issue.
The Chief Director of the Ministry of Mines, Mr. Ohene Okai, said he knew nothing about Norcan.
The acting director of the Geological survey department, Philip Oduro Amoako also said he had just assumed that position and he had no idea of the issue. At the Ministry of Tourism, Mr. Sonne Joel, director of policy and planning disclosed that he hadn't set eyes on any document relating to gold prospecting in the Lake Bosumtwi area “but I can assure you that this Ministry will not support any prospecting or mining activity in that area” he stressed.
Mr. Ben Aryee, Executive Director of the Minerals Commission, could also not be reached for his comment.