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Opinions of Friday, 12 August 2011

Columnist: Atta-Quayson, Alhassan

“Galamsey” NOT Primary Cause of Floods

Alhassan Atta-Quayson

August, 2011.

Small-scale mining, popularly referred to as galamsey, has largely and elsewhere, fully been blamed for the floods in some parts Eastern Region of Ghana such as Kade, Kyibi, Atiwa, and such other towns near Birim river. The floods that occurred during the third and fourth week of July, 2011 has led to the death of about a dozen people, displaced nearly a dozen of thousands of people, and destroyed vast landed properties including farms. It has been mainly reasoned that the activities of these small-scale miners result in silting of drainage systems, especially rivers, and therefore caused the floods. Is that right? Largely NOT. And consequently the elites in the society, particularly politicians and some chiefs, are calling for more punitive actions against small-scale miners with some calling for astronomical increment in the $200 fine and others calling for their immediate arrest. But are these demands justified? And are the effects of small-scale mining the primary cause of the floods in the first place? These are questions that need to be well interrogated and findings should form a basis for formulating policies to deal with the issues. As a matter of fact, effects of small-scale mining is unlikely to be the primary cause of the floods in the Eastern Region, so the heavy attacks from the elites on the small-scale miners are unfair and cannot deal squarely with the flood issues in the country. The heavy blame on the small-scale miners is merely a diversionary tactics deployed by the elites to divide communities and to continue their plunder through rent-seeking. For example the occasional outburst at Fulani herdsmen in relation to land and water resources issues only seek to divert attention from the existential problems partly created by the elites in those communities. Some of the farmers who have lost the most from these floods have their relatives, often siblings, working in the small-scale mining sub-sector. And the elites are causing divisions among these people rather than identifying the actual causes of the floods, which will find them culpable. In between time, the elites find themselves in their murky relationship with foreign capitalist who sponsor them. As a country we have fast grown into a state of finding excuses to problems rather than solutions.

The floods and several other problems faced by the country are systemic and therefore require systemic solutions. On the floods and such related problems such as pollution and deforestation, one finds no bigger cause than the FDI-driven raw material exporting model implemented by successive government for nearly three decades now. Again the consequent belief that development is only possible when natural resources, particularly minerals and forestry, are extracted and exported in their raw forms no matter how, is a major cause of our predicaments. In the process big multinational companies, in collusion with elite politicians and chiefs, ransack the country on an unimaginable scale and the negative effects of this system are place roundly at the door steps of the very people who suffer the most.

Both in the mining and forestry sectors, the destruction caused by the multinational companies – be it big timber companies using heavy equipments to raze down our forests or mining companies polluting, impounding and diverting water resource (as allowed by the law) or these companies blatantly abusing human rights with support from state security apparatus – in all aspects of their activities far exceed those caused by indigene operators. Yet the big picture out there put the entire blame on indigenes who are struggling to survive, leaving plundering elites and their masters out of the causes of these problems. Anyway, why aren’t the authorities clamping down on the locals? They simply lost the grounds to do so, knowing their murky relationship with multinationals. On a second note, it covers them up and allows them to maintain the status quo. The floods that hit the Eastern Region last month are not the first of its kind in the country. Just last year, and roughly around the same time, a number of towns in the country, chiefly Ashiaman, Agona Swedru, and others in the Volta Region, were hit by floods of similar magnitude, if not higher, causing more harm than those caused in the Eastern Region. Were the effects of small-scale mining identified as a cause of those floods? Again, one sees similar developments preceding last year’s floods and those of this year: a couple of days of continuous and often torrential rains. These rains should, therefore, be seen as the primary cause of the floods, not “galamsey”, noting other systemic causes noted above. Thus in sum, changing climatic conditions around the globe, in addition to the economic system we are running are to be blamed for the floods more than any other factor. Changing climatic conditions, reflected more in a warming world, has naturally induced both droughts and floods: droughts because it’s hotter and floods because warm oceans release more water vapour leading to torrential downpours.

Around the world, there have been reports of severe floods and droughts recently, following changing climatic conditions, in countries such as Australia, United State of America, Russia and East African countries. In Australia, from December 2010 to January 2011, floods killed 35 people in Queensland, and affected 70 towns and over 200,000 people. December 2010 went on record as Queensland’s wettest in history and the damage from the floods was estimated at around $1 billion with estimated $30 billion reduction in Australian GDP (Wikipedia). In May 2010, torrential rains in the United State of America (Tennessee), with all her sophistication, claimed 31 lives. And on top of these floods are record heat waves and droughts. In July 2010, wildfires resulting from record-setting heat waves in Russia claimed the lives of an estimated 56,000 people with an estimated $15 billion in damages (Wikipedia). As I write, countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia are in severe food crises as a result of severe droughts never experienced in several decades, with parts of those countries having been hit by famine.

So let us return to the Eastern Region floods. I admit that the effects of small-scale mining might have partly contributed to the floods but disagree that the floods were primarily necessitated by the activities of these miners. Knowing that floods of even larger magnitude have hit Ghana and several other countries in the recent past, I find it extremely difficult to lay the blame roundly on small-scale mining, as the elites are doing. In fact shortly after the Eastern Region floods, Volta Region, which was heavily hit last year, experienced some floods leading to the death of three people and destruction of properties, including farms. So with these floods comes the need to maintain expanded drainage system throughout the country. And this is where effects of small-scale mining enter the equation. Let us also note that the silting and blockage of water ways and rivers that often results from the activities of small-scale mining, have other important causes, chief among them being the construction of residential and commercial buildings – sometimes in waterways. The climate change phenomenon may not be as serious as adherents would want us to believe but let us not be deceived that business as usual, such as identifying excuses and making occasional outbursts, can shield us sufficiently from the dire consequences of floods and droughts. The need for responsible responses is long overdue. While mitigating the causes of climate change is important our priority should rather be placed on measures that can deal with current and future impacts squarely – adaptation. Chief among efforts at dealing with the phenomenon is the significant reduction in green house gas emissions by developed countries. In Ghana certain adaptation measures are crucial, one of them being de-silting and maintenance of expanded drainage systems, throughout the country – especially national, regional and district capitals where economic activities and settlements are fast increasing. This would enable us better contain the continuous torrential rains and floods that are fast becoming the norm in Ghana.

Increasing punitive actions against small-scale miners and causing their immediate arrest are misplaced and far off the solution. Challenges in the small-scale mining sub-sector are national concerns and need to be tackled in a more logical and holistic manner. Over the past 25years, foreign multinational companies have been overwhelmingly privileged to the disadvantage of Ghanaian small-scale miners. But while the elites who maintain the status quo benefit from these foreign companies, the small-scale mining sub-sector, which is strongly linked with other sectors of the Ghanaian economy, delivers much greater benefits to the nation than foreign counterparts that are merely looting our natural resources. In the light of this, the small-scale mining sector must, as a matter of urgent national priority, receive reasonable attention and support – through policy and the creation of enabling environment – but should not destroyed.