MAC: Mines and Communities

Protect Forest Reserves; Keep Mining Companies Out in Ghana

Published by MAC on 2003-04-28

Protect Forest Reserves; Keep Mining Companies Out in Ghana

Global Response - Action Alert #3/03

April 28th 2003

"To be sitting on gold, people might have envied you before, but today gold spells trouble and poverty."

--Yao Graham, Coordinator, Third World Network, Ghana

"[We found] overwhelming evidence of human rights violations occasioned by the mining activities, which were not sporadic but a well established pattern common to almost all mining communities."

-- Ghana's Human Rights and Administrative Justice Committee, 2000

The market value of gold may be going up, but the value of gold to the people of developing countries is under hot debate. Nowhere is the controversy greater than in Ghana, West Africa, where mining has been going on for hundreds of years, and gold makes up more than 40% of foreign exchange. "Everywhere you go, you see huge cavities in the ground, discarded pits where thriving villages once stood and nothing now grows," writes BBC reporter John Kampfner. "People have been forced off their farming land, losing their only source of income."

A chorus of human rights, environmental and labor organizations denounces a pattern of abuse by mining companies that includes burning villages, illegal detention, rape, intimidation and dog attacks on villagers. Modern gold mining creates tailings and waste water laced with heavy metals and toxic chemicals like cyanide and arsenic. In recent years, disastrous cyanide spills have killed all life in several of Ghana's river systems and marshlands, contami-nating drinking water and agricultural lands for thousands of villagers. Scientists fear the cyanide and heavy metal residue could pose a threat to the people and wildlife in these areas for decades to come.

While the communities that have been damaged and displaced by mining are organizing to demand compensation and clean-up, the mining companies have their sights set on new gold fields. They are now pressing Ghana's government to permit mining in the country's protected forest reserves.

Decades of deforestation and forest degradation have left less than two percent of Ghana's native tree cover intact. These remaining savanna and moist tropical forests are recognized as globally significant for their biological diversity, including over 700 types of tropical trees. The forests provide critical habitat for many endangered species including 34 endangered plant species, 13 mammals, 23 butterflies and 8 birds. Many forest animals need large contiguous areas of habitat to maintain a viable breeding population.

Given Ghana's history of devastating cyanide spills, environmentalists are especially concerned about potential contamination of the rivers and streams that crisscross the forest reserves and feed Ghana's major rivers, providing water for villages and cities.

"We can prosper as a nation without having to raze down our forest reserves for mining," says Friends of the Earth's Abraham Baffoe. A coalition of 12 Ghanaian organizations that oppose mining in the forest reserves is working with villagers on a variety of projects for sustainable economic development as an alternative to mining. They charge that five mining companies, including industry giant Newmont, got away with illegal mineral explorations
in the forest reserves under the former administration. Now the companies say Ghana's reputation as a good place for foreign investment depends on whether the new administration will bend or change the law to allow them to mine inside the reserves.

Supported by the Minerals Commission, the Chamber of Mines and even the Environmental Protection Agency, the mining companies are bombarding the public with pro-mining propaganda and promises of material aid. But a 62-year old villager scoffed, "We have heard it all before. They came with all sorts of promises, but we saw nothing. They devastated our lands and livelihoods and showed little respect for civil rights."

How You Can Help: Support a coalition of Ghanaian organizations and
communities by urging government officials to keep Ghana's forest reserves
off-limits to mining.

Background Information

Mining in Developing Countries: Who Benefits?

A 2001 Oxfam America report, "Extractive Sectors and the Poor," compared social indicators in developing countries. Economies that are largely dependent on mining have:

· Lower living standards and higher poverty rates
· Higher rates of child mortality and income inequality
· Higher vulnerability to economic shocks
· More government corruption, authoritarianism, military spending
and civil war.

(See the full report at:

Societal Choices

"What is the most responsible and least polluting and wasteful way for society to provide itself with the materials it needs? While new extraction is one way to secure these materials, recycling, re-use, less use, materials replacement, and alternative product design are other methods. Yet today, mining companies are hooked on extraction and most governments provide subsidies for extraction that promote waste, lead to polluted lands and polluted rivers, and favor extraction over conservation and protection of community interests and values..How does society weigh the benefits of jewelry.against the potential environmental, community and landscape impacts of new large-scale gold mines? How many new open-pit mines can be justified when there are such vast oversupplies of gold stocks held by governments? How much more gold does society need?"

--Stephen D'Esposito, President, Mineral Policy Center

Requested Action:

Please write polite letters to Ghanaian government officials and to the CEO of Newmont (one of five mining companies that is pressuring Ghana to open the forest reserves to mining).

Addresses in Ghana:

His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor
President, Republic of Ghana
P.O. Box 1627
Accra, Ghana (US postage: 80 cents)
FAX: Int'l code+233-21-663044 or 660246

Mrs. Cecilia Bannerman
Minister of Mines
P.O. Box T40
Accra, Ghana (US postage: 80 cents)
FAX: Int'l code+233 21 666801

* Tell them you support a coalition of Ghanaian organizations that opposes opening Ghana's forest reserves to mining.

* Congratulate them for ratifying the Convention on Biological Diversity and establishing protected areas.

* Urge them to maintain Ghana's laws that prohibit mining in forest reserves in order to protect globally significant biological diversity, conserve freshwater resources, and prevent toxic contamination of water and agricultural lands.

* Ask them to open a national discussion on the issue of mining in the forest reserves because Ghanaian citizens and NGOs should participate in a decision that affects the country's greatest natural resource and the welfare of future generations.

Address of Newmonth Mining Corporation

Wayne W. Murdy, CEO
Newmont Mining Corporation
1700 Lincoln Street
Denver, Colorado
USA 80203
Fax: Int'l code+303 837-6100

* Tell him you support a coalition of Ghanaian organizations that opposes opening Ghana's forest reserves to mining.

* Tell him Newmont should not pressure the Ghanaian government to change its laws to permit mining in forest reserves. Newmont should honor Ghana's ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and respect Ghana's protected areas.

* Urge him to cancel Newmont's gold mining project in the Ntronang forest reserve.

This Global Response Action was issued at the request of and with information provided by the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM), Ghana.

For more info, see:

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Global Response
P.O. Box 7490
Boulder CO 80306
TEL: 303-444-0306
FAX: 303-449-9794

At the request of indigenous peoples and grassroots organizations, Global Response organizes international letter-writing campaigns to help communities prevent environmental destruction. Young people and adults in 92 countries participate in these very effective campaigns.

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