“There is nothing like responsible mining” CSOs tell gov’t

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) against bauxite mining in Atewa Forest has reiterated their call on the Nana Addo led government to reconsider the plans to mine bauxite in the Atewa forest in the Eastern Region.

According to group, there is nothing like responsibly mining. Thus government’s assurance to mine bauxite in Atewa forest ‘responsibly’ doesn’t hold water because it is universally well known fact that it is not possible to mine in a forest without destroying the green vegetation, water, and all the biodiversity it supports.

The CSOs against bauxite mining in Atewa Forest made the call at a press conference held in Accra to brief journalists on the current happenings in the Atewa Forest as well as government’s reluctant to make information available to the public.

Addressing the media, the Project Coordinator of Friends of Earth (FoE) Ghana, Mr Nehemiah Tettey Odjer-Bio explained that government’s plan to sell off Atewa Forest to the Chinese poses a threat to the Livelihood of millions of people both far and near as well as the integrity of the Atewa Forest and therefore mining Atewa is not in the national interest. “We would like to draw the attention of the Government to the apparent conflict and contradictions that bauxite mining will have on our Forest policies and forest management” he noted.

According to him the facts on ground do not support government’s claim it’s going to mine Atewa ‘responsibly’. “If for nothing at all, Awaso bauxite mine is there for all to see and it show clearly the environmental devastation caused to forests by bauxite mining. Today Awaso bauxite mine area is now a desert of red mud that has replaced the once thick forest. The Atewa Forest, an ‘environmental crown jewel’ and one of Ghana’s last remaining intact forests harbouring many ‘Critically Endangered Species’ will be fragmented to the extent that it can no longer support this level of biodiversity. These endangered species include the globally threatened White-naped Mangabey discovered very recently in the Atewa Forest, and several other endangered species of wildlife found nowhere else on Earth.” the Project Coordinator emphasised.

Health issues

Studies in other countries examining the health effects of bauxite mining reveal disturbing and unexpected impacts caused by bauxite dust and heavy metals released during mining. Communities close to bauxite mines in other countries cite a catalogue of health complaints, many psychosocial as well as physical. Some include reduced energy, sleep deprivation, and musculoskeletal disorders (waist, back and neck pains, headaches and muscle stress), chest pains, skin rashes, sore throat, heart palpitations, peeling and itching eyes, and respiratory problems. Exposure to bauxite dust can also cause chronic brain syndrome, anxiety, forgetfulness, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Impacts on water supplies

The clean water sources from the Atewa Forest which serve most of the communities within the catchment area will also be disturbed. The bauxite mining will most likely pollute the water source with dangerous heavy metals that leach out from the soil during mining.  These metals cause serious damage to people’s health including cancer, nervous system damage, and dementia.

Community food production

Food security in the communities close to the bauxite mining will be threatened by loss of lands and loss of forest for forest foods. Furthermore, soil contamination by heavy metals reduces soil fertility, which damages food crop productivity and food quality. Heavy metals are easily taken up by crop roots and accumulate at high levels in the edible parts of the crop, making them dangerous to eat.

The so called Jobs opportunities

Bauxite mines typically employ between 500 and 1000 people. Converting forest and Agricultural lands to bauxite mining and its infrastructure will damage local livelihoods especially cocoa and cash crop production. Other major livelihoods of the rural population are likely to be lost in the process.

Through the Cocoa Forest REDD+ Programme, Ghana’s cocoa farmers are encouraged to take up shaded cocoa production and forest protection measures. In return they will receive farming inputs and resources to help them increase cocoa yields and incomes. But destruction of any part of the forest may undermine the efforts of farmers to increase Ghana’s cocoa production and to protect trees on their farms.

Carbon Finance

The group revealed that it will be more profitable for government to opt for Carbon Finance instead mining in Atewa. It explained that under a contract with the World Bank’s Carbon Fund and linked to the Ghana Cocoa Forest REDD+ Programme, Ghana will be paid $50 million in Carbon Finance over seven years from 2019 to 2024 if the country reduces carbon emissions by 10 million tonnes (MT). The Cocoa Forest REDD+ benefit sharing document shows how communities, farmers’ groups and Traditional Authorities in the REDD+ Hotspots, including Atewa Forest, will benefit directly from Carbon Fund payments. But if, for example, government cuts the Atewa Forest and the Carbon Emission Reduction targets for the landscape are not met, then payments to farmers, communities and Traditional Authorities will be reduced. While money from bauxite will be costly to earn due to the high investment required to establish the industry, the $50 million from the Carbon Fund will be relatively easy to achieve by simply NOT cutting any more forest down, and farmers, communities and Traditional Authorities in Hotspot areas will also gain the full benefits for their hard work.

Mr Odjer-Bio emphasised that his outfit, FoE-Ghana believes in environmentally sustainable development that will serve Ghanaians better, including:

  • Community development that builds economies from the ground up with green jobs that bring long term sustained benefits for people, the environment, local economies and Ghana as a whole. We want to see sustainable businesses and industries investing in these locations that are friendly to the environment, build on Ghana’s own sustainably-produced resources, and add value to local produce. Many private sector businesses are eager to invest in Atewa Forest if only the threat of bauxite mining is removed.
  • Carefully managed ecotourism in Ghana’s precious ecological landscapes to encourage more people to visit Ghana and spend their money here.
  • Proper taxing of foreign resource-exploiting companies such as gold and bauxite mining that will then provide the necessary finance to support some of these measures.

Odjer-Bio revealed that since the announcement of the intention of the Government to mine Bauxite in the Atewa Forest the CSOs against bauxite mining have made numerous calls to Government to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to understand the full impact of this development for people and the environment have fallen on deaf ears.

“We regret to say that this still has not been done. We urge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to demand this study is undertaken as a matter of urgency. This will enable the communities and the government to then determine if bauxite mining at Atewa is really in the interests of the country and its people in the long run.” He said.

He noted further that there was very little or no information available to the public on the agreements made on the proposed bauxite mining in Atewa Forest.

Mr Odjer-Bio insisted that government through its agencies and departments should make available every information on the agreements made on the proposed bauxite mining in Atewa Forest to the public. Stating that access to information is a fundamental right of Ghanaians and most especially the communities living close to sites proposed for development. Principle 7 of the UN Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment necessitates that states provide timely access to environmental information and also make it affordable to any individual or groups of people. Our government has also failed in this regard.

We therefore demand that – in the interest of Ghana – that a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) or a sustainability analysis is carried out urgently so that the nation can properly assess the overall benefits and costs of the proposed integrated bauxite development agenda in the Atewa forest landscape.

As citizens of Ghana, we reiterate that we should not be denied access to information on any agreements relating to the proposed integrated bauxite mining development agenda for Ghana. Communities and civil society across the country have the right to know what exactly is proposed for the planned bauxite mining in our forest and the exact locations of these proposed mines.

Overall, we demand that the government considers all these issues raised and the value of the Atewa Forest for water provision and water cycling; livelihoods, biodiversity and climate change mitigation, and reverse its decision to mine bauxite in the precious Atewa Forest.” He emphasised.

According to the Project Coordinator, the group have every confidence that a government championing the interest of its citizens will adhere to our humble request.

 

 

Story: Franklin ASARE-DONKOH

Writer’s email: franklin.asare-donkor@todaygh.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *