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Opinions of Saturday, 20 May 2017

Columnist: Albert Amagyei

Galamsey: It’s impacts on health and the environment; the way forward

In Ghana the mere mention of illegal small scale mining provokes unfounded accusations. The situation has led to disputing rightly formulated and comprehensive measures to tackle the menace galamsey poses.

This is a great opportunity to finally examine a critical national development issue not only with respect to public health but the whole debate on national development. This issue of public interest has been attended by trivial commentary, partisan considerations and the cries of poor workers in the mining societies. There are now poor socio-economic conditions as a result of poor galamsey outcomes and society has failed to question.

Mineral extraction has existed long before today and probably lack of in-depth appreciation and understanding of the broad nature and challenges that the mineral wealth of this country provides; in the sense that it would either be a blessing or curse depending on how it is ben managed.

Back in those days during the colonial era, the colonial masters were overwhelmed by the mineral exploration of the country. Our old folks with problems of pronouncing the mine settled for Elmina I guess. Ghana deserves its old name as the Gold Coast.

In artisanal mining; rudimentary techniques, high manual processes are used in mineral extraction. Workers are exposed to hazardous working conditions and low levels of environment and health awareness.

Galamsey activities pose the greatest and stiffest challenge to public health by their crude and wasteful methods. Alluvial mining techniques that involve water use method cause devastating pollution of rivers, streams and lakes.

Generations unborn are going to suffer from long-term health implications of toxic chemicals such as mercury as these heavy metals pollute surface and underground waters that from the long term health implications that would not manifest immediately but in the near future.

Mercury apart from its advantage of helping in the construction of very important health instruments, it poses a greater health risk should it find it way in the human body with its ability to destroy the central nervous system in the matter of days. Miners use mercury in the form of mercury powder and the pollution caused to surface and underground water are highly toxic to humans.

Ghanaians are now faced with the problem of drinking and inhaling of gaseous mercury; immediately this gaseous mercury mixes with the blood, it has the potency because of the volume to permeate the blood brain barrier disrupting the structure and functioning, causing electrolyte imbalances, and serious psychological and physiological damages to the sufferer.

The fact still remains that apart from those who take treated water, most Ghanaians including those who drink pipe-borne water will have bits of mercury persisting and hence will have accumulated effects in humans that conserve them.

Most surveys conducted in Ghana show clearly that women and children outnumber men who engage in galamsey activities. This therefore exposes the most vulnerable of the country to severe health risk. The response from most workers is the economic needs that can be satisfied through galamsey outweigh the risk. These vulnerable groups of persons apart from dangers posed by mercury and arsenic poisoning, the threat of HIV/AIDS is roaring its ugly head together with malaria. The prevalence of malaria in such communities is on the rise leading our children to early grave. It’s an obvious fact that the mining communities record the most of HIV cases.

Drenches left by miners have become death traps and serving breeding grounds for mosquitoes due to significant water in them. Malaria is the leading cause of infant mortality in mining societies.

Most of our mining towns have been socially acculturated because of economic gains; most African naturals have invaded our territories. School going pupils have joined this raid with teenage pregnancy at an all-time peak. The normal extended family relation is no more leaving devastating effect on education of our children. School drop- out rate has quadrupled and BECE results have gone from bad to worse. Another serious issue is the devastating effect on more sustainable forms of economic activities such as agriculture, forestry, tourism, and water and fish resource.

There is no doubt the country earns much from exported gold but it it’s actually robbed of the percentage because most mining is done illegally.

Other important economic sustainable activities which equally yield better revenue and contributes more to the Gross Domestic Product is however affected by the effects of poor mining management.

From fresh water resources, there is a decline in fish stock due to mercury and arsenic spillage into streams and rivers with devastating consequence on aquatic biodiversity.

Farmlands in mining communities are degraded and devastated resulting in sharp fall in agricultural production.

Virgin and forest lands have been eroded due to clearing of vegetation and topsoil for mining activities. The green Ghana is getting depleted.

More importantly precious lives are lost due to collapse of mining pits and galamsey pit cave INS, disturbingly women and children are the most affected. Bodies retrieved from such incidents, recorded significant number of women and children. The human resource of the country in their desperate adventures for economic survival loses their precious lives and this goes a long way to affect productivity of Ghana.

Thus a general review of the shortcomings of government, administrative and legislative measures is important.