The Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Kwaku Afriyie, has said people found guilty of illegal mining (galamsey) risk going to prison for between 15 and 25 years.
This follows the amendment of the Minerals and Mining Act of 2016.
“Let me remind all that the Minerals and Mining Act of 2016 has been amended and one can serve between 15 and 25 years’ imprisonment if found guilty by the courts for galamsey.
"We must move from a generation of environmental free riders to a generation of ethical utilisation of resources which impact on the environment,” Dr Afriyie said.
The minister was speaking at a durbar to mark this year’s World Environment Day at Asante Juaben in the Ashanti Region last Saturday.
It was on the theme: “Let’s unite to save the environment".
Dr Afriyie said the ministry, with the support of the development partners, had invested about GH¢50 million to build resilience and also restore the ecological system in the Northern Savannah area within the last decade.
A recent Ghana country environmental analysis by the World Bank indicated that the cost of environmental degradation per year was $11 billion, the minister said.
According to him, environmental degradation and unsustainable natural resource use posed a significant risk to future economic growth, as well as a threat to public and ecosystem health.
"The ecosystem in our part of the world is depleting at an alarming rate due to the over-exploitation and unsustainable extraction of resources from the natural environment.
“We may have wasted time being selfish to an extent, but we can turn things around and strive to achieve a better, greener and healthier environment. It is my humble appeal that we all join hands in a synergistic manner and collectively put effort to save the environment," Dr Afriyie said.
He described the Green Ghana Project by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources to plant five million trees in all 16 regions in the country as laudable.
He directed metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to spearhead the fight against environmental degradation by enforcing the requisite laws and regulations.
Upholding cultural values
Dr Afriyie also entreated traditional leaders to come on board and uphold cultural values that go a long way to support the conservation agenda.
"When we destroy our environment, we threaten our very existence. When we protect it, we protect ourselves and posterity. We can, for instance, plant trees in our backyard, strengthen the linkage between nature and our culture, observe traditional laws and promote traditional approaches to biodiversity conservation and restoration," he said.
Dr Afriyie said sustained social development and economic growth were very much dependent on the effective management of the environment, comprising mainly of both renewable and non-renewable resources.
The United Nations Resident Co-ordinator in Ghana, Mr Charles Abani, said "we are rapidly reaching a point of no return on the planet. We face a triple environmental emergency, such as biodiversity loss, climate disruptions and escalating pollutions”.
He expressed concern over the forest and the pollution of water bodies, adding: “We are ravaging the ecosystem that underpins our society, and in doing so we risk depriving ourselves of food, water and the resources we need to survive."
According to Mr Abani, the degradation of natural resources was already undermining the well-being of about 3.2 billion people or 40 per cent of humanity.
"Luckily, the earth is resilient but she needs our help. We still have time to repair the damage we have caused," he added.
The Chairman of the Council of State and Omanhene of the Juaben Traditional Area, Nana Otuo Siriboe II, lauded the government for embarking on a tree -planting exercise, especially in the Juaben area.
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