Investigations conducted by Today point to the fact that majority of the hand-pump wells and ground water constructed in Tarkwa, Bogoso and Prestea in the Western region and Obuasi in the Ashanti region have now been chemically polluted by the mining activities.
Information available to the paper shows that residents who fetch water from a total of eighteen (18) constructed hand-pump wells in mining communities in Tarkwa-Bogoso-Prestea and Obuasi are dangerously drinking contaminated water on the blind side of the Ghana Water Resource Commission and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Today’s findings revealed that the chemistry of these waters is usually also affected by mining activities, particularly with regard to surface waters and these effects are more noticeable in Tarkwa, Bogoso, Prestea and Obuasi where the mine is located upstream or near the communities.
That worrying situation attested to the fact that residents in these communities risk contracting communicable diseases which the Minister for Health, Dr. Kweku Agyemang-Mensah, touted that the government of President John Dramani Mahama seemed to be wining the fight against it.
Today was also reliably informed that due to the much-publicised environmental concerns in the media, some people were prevented from drinking ground water and hand-pump wells provided by government and mining companies in the above-mentioned mining communities in the country.
That worrying situation has become a matter of great concern to some chiefs, opinion leaders and stakeholders in Tarkwa, Bogoso, Prestea and Obuasi including Mr. Jerry S. Kuma, of the Department of Geological Engineering at the Western University College who separately stated that the irresponsible activities of the mining companies has resulted to water shortages in Ghana.
According to him, mining activities cause degradation to the natural hydrodynamic equilibrium attained by both surface and ground waters in mining communities in Ghana, and called on the EPA to enforce its environmental protection laws in Ghana.
The environmental expert stressed that it was necessary to accord reserves that serve as headwaters higher protection status to ensure good protection of the water bodies.
These measures, Mr. Kuma noted, would go long way to avert the looming danger of waterborne diseases and water resource crisis in mining communities.
In his presentation at a workshop on the topic: ‘The impact of mining on water bodies and its health implications on humans”, the Executive Director of Centre for Environmental Impact Analysis (CEIA,) Mr. Samuel Obiri, stressed the need for government to find lasting solutions to the human activities and commercial ventures which has the potential of causing major water crisis in the country.
According to him, water bodies which used to serve as intakes that provide water for urban communities are either dying off or have been so polluted by the miners.
He noted that human activities such as farming, dumping of liquid and solid wastes into rivers and streams, bush burning, illegal logging of timber and mining activities have been identified as major threats to Ghana’s water security.
These activities, Mr. Obiri said, resulted in seasonal water shortages, resulting in the reliance on unconventional sources and expensive processes of water production and distribution to meet growing water demands.
He described how miners diverted water courses, dug water beds with excavators from point-to-point while pouring chemicals into the remainder to polish their mineral finds.
Mr. Obiri stated that the mining companies have so much polluted the water to the extent that people in mining operating communities have had to spend more on chemicals to treat water for human consumption.
According to him, majority of water bodies including river Birim, Akombra, Pra which are sources of potable water are heavily polluted by gold miners, particularly illegal miners known as ‘galamsey’ operators.
For her part, Associate Executive Director of Wacam, Mrs. Hannah Owusu- Koranteng, noted that most of Ghana’s forest reserves were sitting on gold and there were serious debate as to whether to mine or not to mine in forest reserves.
She stated that in 23 years to come Ghana would lose all its reserves at the current rate of depletion adding that currently mining companies have mined the Kubi, Tano, Suraw and parts of Nueng forest reserves.
He called on all stakeholders, including traditional leaders, to team up with government and Wacam in their efforts to deal with irresponsible mining activities.
Director of Operations at the Ghana Forestry Commission, Mr. Kwakye Ameyaw, was reported to have listed some critical activities that threatened forests that provided critical cover for water bodies in the country.
Mining, especially artisanal mining (including illegal mining,) sand winning and the conversion of forests into farmlands including illegal farming in forest reserves were some of the activities he listed as threats to forest and water conservation.
Other activities include Illegal settlements within forest reserves, wildfires, indiscriminate harvesting of trees by chainsaw operators and illegal loggers, free-range cattle ranching, preponderance of invasive plant species which colonise clearings and impede natural regeneration of native tree species.
The effects of these activities, Ameyaw said, included the incidence of reduced quantity of water in river systems and groundwater, especially during the dry season, due to increased evaporation and reduction in forest cover.
Former Wacam Boss, Mr. Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, said: “Ghana is known to be endowed with relative abundance of water resources. Nevertheless, water is an open access resource and therefore prone to an ultimate jeopardy if not managed properly.
“..it is imperative therefore for the current generation to manage these water resources sustainably in order to ensure inter-generational equity,” he maintained.
He pointed out that it is not only artisanal and illegal mining that poses great danger to Ghana’s water security, as large scale legal mining has over the years also been the main pollutant of water bodies in mining communities.
He indicated that in 2011, Ghana’s total earnings from gold rose to $4,778,502,161 from the $3,724,847,388 in 2010.
However, he stressed these huge earnings only earn the government a fraction in taxes and royalties compared with the huge negative environmental loses Ghana suffers as a result of mining.
Mr. Owusu-Koranteng said the paltry earnings for Ghana from mining was made possible by the PNDC law 153 which set mineral royalties at between 3.0 percent and 12 percent of the gross total mined, based on the operating ratio of mining companies.
However, in the Minerals and Mining Act, Act 703 (2006,) royalties was set at six per cent, which the huge international mining firms operating in the country say is not adequate.
A study by Wacam, a leading local civil society organisation, advocating responsible mining in the country, conducted about three years ago in Obuasi and Tarkwa, two of Ghana’s biggest mining towns, found that about 250 river bodies had been polluted through mining activities.
These activities have been found to include cyanide spillage into streams and rivers which served as the only sources of drinking water for the communities where these mining firms operated.
Residents in Obuasi, Ghana’s foremost gold mining community, told participants at the two-day workshop in Tema organised by Wacam recently that 71 water bodies around Obuasi alone had been polluted and some destroyed completely by the mining firm operating in the community.
They expressed grave concern about the worsening potable water situation in these mining communities where the mining companies operate but refused to provide alternative sources of water for them.
The Obuasi residents noted that the effects of water pollution both for domestic and agricultural use was identified as one of the major flashpoints of conflict in mining communities across the country.
They stated that the country is currently facing water shortage, especially in the urban areas, where pipe-borne water is the main source of potable water for the people.
To this end, Wacam stressed the need for government of Ghana to not only find solutions to the aforementioned challenges in water resources management, but also look at the appropriate climate change adaptation and mitigation procedures to secure its water bodies.
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