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Ghana appears to be losing the fight against illegal mining, popularly referred to as ‘galamsey’, particularly in the Kyebi area in the East Akyem District in the Eastern Region.A major cause of the seeming defeat is the activity of key players who are supposed to lead in the fight against the menace but who are themselves said to be engaged in it.
The practice, which is illegal, is well known to chiefs, assembly members and the police but they have remained passive even in the face of complaints lodged by people in the affected communities. A suspected massive gold deposit in the area has led many of the indigenes to venture into illegal small-scale mining operations.
In going after the gold, the miners dig up soil from the earth and leave huge trenches. The soil is then washed in streams and rivers, polluting them as a result, in order to retrieve the mineral. The illegal mineworkers gather their loot to the market to sell and make money, hence the name galamsey, a corrupted version of 'gather them and sell'.
Even though a number of people have been arrested in the past for engaging in the illegality, not many have been prosecuted because even before the case gets to court, the powers behind the activity are said to use their connections to have the cases dropped.
According to residents in communities in the East Akyem District where illegal mining is rife, the activity poses a major security threat.
During a tour of the Atiwa forest reserve, residents living close by expressed worry over the damage the galamsey operators had caused to the environment, including the pollution of major rivers such as Birim, Densu and Ayensu which serve as sources of drinking water for the people.
Residents of communities that rely on the Birim River for sustenance in the district say they cannot make use of water from the river again because of the high level of pollutants. At the moment, the town of Kyebi is entirely reliant on water from boreholes.
Other aspects of destruction attributed to illegal mining include damage to large tracts of farmlands including rubber and oil palm plantations.
The miners employ bulldozers in their work and as a result destroy large areas in a relatively short period. Under the circumstances, the ecology of the Atiwa forest reserve, about 10 km from Kyebi, has been badly affected.
A number of illegal mineworkers told the Daily Graphic that they were aware of the destruction their activities were causing, but they also had to make a living. They disclosed that the land on which they operated belonged to their bosses who had bought them specifically for the mining project.
According to them, ‘galamsey’ is on the ascendancy because there are no jobs. With regard to the pollution of water bodies, they said they would try to fix it when they were done with mining in the area. “Don’t worry about the water situation, we will try and make it clean if possible,” they said.
In view of the massive scale of destruction done to farmlands and water bodies, if care is not taken the people living in the area would have to go outside their communities in search of food and water. Not even buildings are spared. In some communities, the galamsey operators have dug so close to people’s homes.
At the end of the day, large craters of mud are created, the environment gets polluted, and government keeps losing revenue while the illegal miners make millions in cash without any regard for what happens to the other millions in the country.
Save Atewa Forest is a project by A Rocha Ghana to help protect and conserve the forest range within the Atewa District of Ghana.
Photo credits to: Piotr Naskrecki , Szabolcs Sáfián, Florian Möllers Images CI RAP 47,
A ROCHA GHANA and
Dr. Caleb Ofori. All other sources acknowledged and appreciated.
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