MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Mining takes heavier toll on Ghana's biodiversity

Published by MAC on 2006-09-27

Mining takes heavier toll on Ghana's biodiversity

by Clement Boateng, Ghanaian Chronicle (Accra)

27th September 2006

GHANA AS a developing country would need to exploit its mineral wealth to meet its commitments for national development, however, over the years this has not been done in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Available statistics show that at independence in 1957, Ghana had a forest estate of about 8.3 million hectares of which only 1.2 million is left today. Ten to twelve thousand people depend on forest reserves directly for their food and livelihood. Rivers and streams in the reserves feed into major rivers that supply water to many villages, towns and cities.

With the use of toxic chemicals by some mining companies, the water bodies that provide drinking water for millions of people are being destroyed. The forest reserves are also considered globally significant for their biological diversity; they contain over 700 types of tropical trees and many endangered species including 34 plants, 13 mammals, 23 butterflies and 8 birds.

Inadequate precautions to guard against the effect of mining such as deforestation, land devastation and the release of toxic materials into water bodies and the environment are leading to the extinction of some species of animals and plants.

Every mining activity involves scooping up tonnes of earth in order to get to the ore. In the process, the land loses its biodiversity. Plant life is destroyed, streams are destroyed or polluted with dangerous chemicals, and animals have to flee to areas where they feel safer. This has the unfortunate consequence of affecting the incomes of those whose only livelihood is from the soil.

With gold prices rising to unprecedented levels, it is becoming increasingly clear that our biodiversity is threatened.

Already, intense interest has been shown in the mining industry through the injection of massive amounts of capital. In order to reap abnormal profits from this windfall, the mining companies are doubling up the rate of extraction, ignoring environmental safeguards in the process. Infact, the country's forest reserves have of late been threatened with mining.

A study carried out by this reporter indicates that some animal and plant species, which used to be common before mining in the mining areas under study, are very rare today. Among some of the mining areas toured were Obuasi, Tarkwa, Dumasi, Himan, Prestea and Kenyasi.

"Biodiversity is being threatened everywhere, even in our landscape development but what we are concerned about is the impact that such activity would have on the biodiversity", confirms a Biodiversity Expert, Prof Alfred Oteng Yeboah, explaining that "mining as an extractive activity destroys, therefore when mining is taking place in areas, which are containing very important natural Ghanaian biological resources, that activity limits the extension of those particular biological resources."

Biodiversity is simply the biological (diversity) resources or living things such as animals; plants, micro-organisms etc close to the environment within which we live.

Prof Yeboah, as a Scientist who has "the interest and welfare of biodiversity at heart because of their enormous benefits human beings derive from biodiversity that guarantee their survival", would prefer the continue existence of biodiversity to mining in areas that inhabit the country's rich biodiversity.

"I will wish that government pays more attention to science and information from scientists to help it take a decision on extractive activities that have the potency of destroying significant biodiversity sites", the former Deputy Director-General of the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research suggested.

We derive all the food sources like carbohydrate, protein, and vitamins from biodiversity. To ensure of food security, biodiversity must be conserved and they must be used on sustainable basis. We must ensure that there is equity, equitable share of benefits that come out of the yields of biological resources.

Biodiversity is important for sustainable economic, social and environmental development, because it provides economic power since it could be turned into cash, thus it can generate money.

In most communities in Ghana today, the livelihoods of the people revolve around the biodiversity of the area.. For instance, in the forest belt of Ghana, it is uncommon to find most of the men in the communities being hunters. These hunters survive on the availability of game like grasscutters, antelopes, rabbits, snails, etc. It is out of this activity that they are able to earn income to take care of their needs like paying school fees, utility bills and others. The indigenes also get medicinal herbs from the forest reserves.

A 50-year-old Philip Amoakohene of Dokyikrom near Kenyasi explained, " when mining came here things have changed; the games are migrating to far distance areas because I spend more hours than before and sometimes go home empty handed."

For those communities that lie close to water bodies, they derive the extra benefit of getting fish, a vital source of protein for themselves. Communities with such water bodies also enjoy recreational benefits from the streams.

Biodiversity promotes social cohesion

For example, when people of Winneba are celebrating their 'Aboakyir' festival, they hunt for a deer. When they catch the deer the people are happy. The hunt for the deer with its historical significance forms basis for the celebration of the festival, which brings about family reunion, reconciliation and serves as a platform for drawing development agenda of the town.

"We used to see monkeys, grasscutters and rats, in the afternoons just about one kilometre away from Tarkwa when we are going to farm but hardly do we see them these days", said a native of Tarkwa, Mrs. Hannah Owusu-Koranteng.

Though there has not been any in-depth research into the disappearance of these animal species, the observation was that the monkeys and other animals might have either left the area due to the excessive noise of heavy machinery of the mining companies or the pollution of the soil and water bodies as a result of frequent spillages of toxic chemicals.

She added that trees like Odum, Sapale, Wawa and Mahogany are also rare today.

There is the need to protect the country's biodiversity from extinction as the threat from mining looms in our faces.

Traditional rulers should join hands with Okyenhene Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin in protecting the country's rich biodiversity sites such as the Atiwa forest.

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