Ghana’s favourable investment climate allowing up to 95 percent profit repatriation and total foreign ownership has resulted in possibly as little as 10% of the value of Ghana’s gold accruing to the national economy. Then there are the environmental and social costs borne by local communities. So it’s difficult to see how Ghana actually benefits at all from foreign gold mining companies. Communities that are host to mining corporations have a whole range of environmental and social impacts to cope with. Their environmental rights are not adequately protected. The activities of the mining companies impact on people’s health, the environment, their food security and their access to resources. The impacts include:
- Land, air and water pollution from heavy metals, arsenic, sulphur gases and dust. Land contamination is so bad that the soil can no longer support food crops, causing food insecurity in affected communities. Habitats are also destroyed
- People’s health suffers:
- Poisonous gases have caused illnesses similar to arsenic poisoning
- Cyanide, heavy metals and chemicals used during mining and processing are discharged untreated into watercourses. This is polluting the potable water sources that communities rely on, and poisoning fish, an important source of protein for local communities. People have unknowingly consumed the poisoned fish, which in turn has poisoned them.
- Air pollution has caused tuberculosis, silicosis, acute conjunctivitis and skin diseases
- Large-scale deforestation: 60 percent of Ghana’s rainforests in the Wassa West District have been destroyed by mining operations. Besides the obvious environmental impacts of forest loss, it also reduces communities’ access to the resources they need for their food and livelihoods
- Homes are badly damaged by the continuous blasting
- Poverty increases in mining communities
- Loss of lands as they are sold off to multinational companies with little compensation for local communities.
The activities of the mining companies violate people’s rights to a clean, healthy environment and to enough quality resources for a healthy life, especially clean water and uncontaminated soils. Worst affected are poor, vulnerable powerless communities with few options for fighting the powerful mining companies and who may even be faced with threats and violence if they try. Growing tensions between communities and the companies’ security, police and military have resulted in local people being shot, injured and sometimes killed. The companies take no responsibility for the disruption or devastation they cause. They don’t respect or value the lives of local people. It’s time they stopped polluting the air, land and water so that people’s rights to a healthy environment and resources can be fulfilled.
The mining companies have too much control. Early in 2014, President Mahama admitted at the World Economic Forum that Ghana couldn’t implement its 10 percent windfall tax introduced in 2012 for the mining sector because the companies threatened to lay off workers should the tax be implemented. He added that the companies will not allow the tax to be implemented and that the government’s only option was to withhold it. But Mahama should not give in to them. He is showing weak leadership and paving the way for companies to reverse any policy or regulation that could benefit Ghana.
To address some of these issues, FoE-Ghana has been part of various campaigns supporting communities to demand for their environmental and social rights to be respected by mining companies, and for legally binding environmental and social standards to regulate surface mining. We have worked with the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM) to raise awareness of the damage caused by mining companies.