Gold Rush in Ghana's Forest Reserves Resisted

By Mike Anane

ACCRA, Ghana, May 13, 2003 (ENS) - An expanding international coalition of public interest, human rights, labor and environmental groups has vowed to resist mining in Ghana's forest reserves.

At a press conference Thursday to launch a campaign against mining in the reserves, the coalition expressed outrage at the decision of the Ghana government to open up some of the reserves for surface mining. Coalition members called on the government to rescind its decision and withdraw licenses it has already given to some of the mining companies to mine in the forest reserves.

The coalition comprises 13 civil society groups and includes FoodFirst Information Action Network (FIAN), Friends of the Earth, Third World Network, Centre for Public Interest Law, Green Earth Organisation, Abantu for Development, The General Agricultural Workers Union, Wassa Association of Communities affected by Mining, Friends of the Nation, Ceres, and the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC).

The coalition contends that the country’s total forest cover has dwindled from 1.8 million hectares at the dawn of independence in 1957 to 1.2 million hectares today, with less than two percent of its native tree cover remaining.

Coalition members said that every year two million acres of forested land is lost to mining. Currently very little closed forest remains outside the forest reserve network with much of it in small scattered patches in swamps and sacred groves. Granting the miners permits to enable them operate in the reserves will result in the decimation of the remaining forest tucked away in the reserves, they warned.

mine

Gold mine in Ghana (Photo credit unknown)
In a country that is already experiencing one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation, the coalition accused the Ghana government of prioritizing commercial development over ecological concerns. Speakers pointed out that an ultimate goal of achieving increased investment in Ghana at the cost of environmental and social performance is dangerous.

Speaking on behalf of the coalition, George Awudi of Friends of the Earth said the affected forest reserves include the Subri River Forest Reserve, a Globally Significant Biodiversity Area, which is also the largest forest reserve in the country and a critical watershed between major rivers.

Also affected are Supuma Shelterbelt, Opon Mansi, Tano Suraw and Suraw Extension, and Cape Three Points reserve in the Western region. In the Eastern region forest reserves at risk include Ajenjua Bepo, and the Atewa Range forest reserve, a Special Biological Protection area believed to be the most mineralized reserve in the country.

Awudi said the Atewa reserve contains many unique species such as two endemic kinds of tree as well as six endemic butterfly species and several bird species.

miner

Ghanian miner (Photo courtesy Dr. Tilo Grätz)
In Tano Suraw, Australia's Red Back Mining got a permit in April to develop its million ounce Chirano Gold Project. The company has been granted a mining lease for the project which includes portions of the Tano Suraw and Tano Suraw extension productive forest reserves. The Chirano Gold project is expected to produce 120,000 ounces to 130,000 ounces of gold a year over a mine life of eight years.

Other companies involved in the gold rush in the forest reserves are Satellite Goldfields Limited of South Africa, Ghana’s Ashanti Goldfields Limited, and the Denver based Newmont Mining Company, the world's largest gold producing company.

Already, Newmont, and Ashanti Goldfields have been granted permits to operate in the Ajenjua Bepo and Kubi Forest reserves.

Awudi said the government’s action in granting these permits is a stab in the back to efforts to conserve and maintain forest reserves and other protected areas in Ghana. The government's decision to allow the mining contradicts its own policy on natural resource conservation and is a dangerous precedent that could set a bad example for other loggers, miners, and poachers, he said.

The government's decision will undermine the economic environmental and social development of the people and the country, said Awudi. He pointed to particular resources that would be damaged such as fresh water, plant genetic resources, supply of medicines, climate control, agriculture, food production and food security.

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Ghanian forest (Photo courtesy Travellers Worldwide)
Pulling down the forest reserves could result in multiple ecological and social consequences such as soil erosion due to the removal of tree cover, the loss of valuable top soil, extensive flooding in rural areas and urban areas caused by excessive silting of river systems, and climate change due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a result of the loss of trees, Awudi explained.

Mining in forest reserves contravenes the principles underlying the establishment of forest reserves in the first place, the coalition says, and it violates several international conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity to which Ghana is a signatory.

Citing examples from Ghana’s Western region, Awudi said that mining in Ghana has had a detrimental effect on the country’s tropical forests which once covered one-third of the country.

Sixty percent of rainforests in Ghana’s Wassa West District have already been destroyed by mining operations. Cyanide and other chemicals have contaminated water supplies, and buildings have been cracked from blasting in the mines.

In many cases, Awudi said, the land used for mining operations in Ghana has been forcibly acquired from farmers, sometimes with no compensation. In some instances, the mines have been responsible for the dislocation and forced resettlement of communities numbering in the thousands. Several cases of human rights violations such as beatings and shootings related to mining have also been documented.

The coalition is urging the government to enact a clear cut regulatory framework that prohibits mining in forest reserves. The coalition is also requesting that the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation not fund the mining companies seeking to operate surface mines in the country’s forest reserves.

Awudi said he suspects that the true aim of the government's decision to grant mining permits in forest reserves is to prepare the grounds for the opening up of the country’s entire forest reserve system to gold mining.

He called on Ghanaians and the international community to take a keen interest in the looming ecological disaster in Ghana and join the coalition in its campaign to resist mining in the country's forest reserves.