Environmentalists in Ghana are fighting the government over the decision to allow for the mining of bauxite in one of its forest reserves, the Atewa Forest.
There is a movement pushing for the intended exercise to be halted by the Ghanaian government in order to save the forest that is home to many rare wildlife and plant species.
Ghanaian environmental groups like ARocha Ghana, Wildlife Society of Ghana, Rainforest Trust, Friends of the Earth-Ghana have been piling pressure of government to stop all mining and prospecting activities in the Reserve warning of dire consequences for the country.
They argue that there is a variety of ecosystem service and other benefits that supersede the financial gains the country may derive from mining bauxite in the forest in the short term.
The groups are also accusing the government of seeking to sacrifice what they term “irreplaceable forest and water sources for 5 million people for Chinese-linked bauxite mine.”
International organizations such as American Bird Conservancy, Amphibian Survival Alliance, BirdLife International, Guyra Paraguay, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Global Wildlife Conservation, the Rainforest Trust, Synchronicity Earth, WWF have joined forces to bring pressure to bear of the government of Ghana.
These efforts have however yielded no results with government still bent on proceeding with the project.
Government recently sent bulldozers to the reserve to clear access roads for the mining to commence.
But the environmentalists contend the move “would destroy the forest – one of the world’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) and home to more than 100 globally threatened species.
Designated as a Forest Reserve in 1926, the Atewa forest is also a critical water source, housing the headwaters of the Birim, Densu and Ayensu rivers, which provide water to local communities as well as millions of people downstream, including in the capital, Accra.”
Letter of protest to President
Some local and international civil society organizations have petitioned the President of Ghana to abort the idea of mining in the Atewa Forest Reserve.
In a joint letter dated on the 6th of July 2018, the organizations heighted the importance of keeping the reserve in its current state.
Among other things the President’s attention was drawn to the fact that the Atewa Forest is home to at least 50 mammal species, more than 1,000 species of plants, at least 230 species of birds and more than 570 butterflies.
Some of which are found nowhere else in the world. Mining Atewa Forest for bauxite, the main ingredient in aluminium, would push a number of species even closer to extinction, including the endangered white-naped mangabey, the critically endangered Togo slippery frog, and the Afia Birago puddle frog, which was only discovered in 2017.
President Akufo-Addo has assured the ecosystem of the Atewa Forest will not be gravely impacted with the mining activities.
According to the Ghanaian president the cutting edge technology to be deployed will ensure protection of the animal and plant species.
“The technology of today is much more sensitive to these issues because of the pressure that is being brought on the bauxite and oil companies to take it into account.
So, to some extent, beginning now, the full-scale exploitation of Ghanaian bauxite resources, we are in a better place, technology-wise, than we would have been 20, 30 years ago,” the President told a gathering at the Sustainable Ocean Industries Conference organized under the auspices of the Petroleum Commission of Ghana, Aker Energy and the Norwegian Embassy in Ghana on April 30, 2019.
“I am satisfied by what I have been told and what has been demonstrated to me that it is possible for us to get that red mud out without disturbing the wildlife there is in the Atewa Mountains,” he added.
The crusaders have however rejected the assurance of the Ghanaian President.
“Despite the government’s assertions, bauxite mining would forever destroy the Atewa forest, leaving extinct species and dried up water sources in its wake,” said Daryl Bosu, deputy national director of A Rocha Ghana, part of a coalition of conservation organizations with over 15 million supporters worldwide that are calling on the government to abandon plans to mine the forest and instead declare it a National Park.
An online petition for the Forest Reserve has had over 20,000 signing.
“It is still not too late for the government to stop this disastrous mine in its tracks and instead champion Ghana’s incredibly rich natural heritage and the interests of the five million Ghanaians who depend on Atewa Forest for their water,” Bosu further stated.
Sign the Petition
Atewa Forest for National Park – not mining
Petition to Parliament
A coalition of conservation organizations has equally petitioned parliament of Ghana with a demand for legislators to compel the Akufo-Addo administration to stop mining activities in the reserve.
The petition which was delivered by the coalition on June 24 was received by the majority leader and Minister for parliamentary Affairs Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu on behalf of the speaker of Ghana’s parliament was accompanied by a protest.
In an interview with Africafeeds.com, Ghana’s Minister for Lands and Natural Resources Kwaku Asomah-Cheremeh said the agitations will not change government’s decision to mine bauxite in the Atewa Forest.
He reiterated government’s assurance the appropriate technology will be deployed to insure minimal destruction the environment.
“We are going to maintain the Forest, we are going to maintain the rivers, we are not going to destroy them….We know Atewa Forest, the issues relating to it, the hullabaloo that others have raised, the indigenes have raised, all these have informed us to do sustainable mining.
We have listened to them and that’s why we’re coming up with reasonable methodology, sustainable ways of doing mining in terms of bauxite,” he emphatically stated.
Touching on the protest and the petition to parliament Mr. Asomah-Chiremeh recognized the right of the coalition to embark on such protests adding the content of the petition will be given attention.
“Demonstrations, petition filing is a constitutional right. It is stated in our constitution that one is clothed with the capacity to do that.
They have chosen to go by filing a petition to the speaker of parliament and therefore the government here. We will look at the issues they have raised in their petition paragraph after paragraph and take a decision accordingly,” the Minister said.
These assertions from the sector minister have however been rejected by the anti-mining in the Atewa Forest campaigners.
Speaking to Africafeeds.com deputy national director for A Rocha Ghana Daryl Bosu said there is never any methodology of mining that can guarantee the protection of the reserve.
The Atewa Forest Reserve is located in Kyebi in the Eastern Region of Ghana, the President’s hometown.
Civil society groups are demanding answers from the President regarding the decision to embark on the mining activities with the potential of destroying the reserve in his own backyard.
“I think this is a question we need to ask him (The President), why is he mining? Nobody has asked the President that question. He has said economics, he has even said there is technology, we know there is no technology but we have not asked him that question.
I want all Ghanaians to ask the president what technology is he going to employ that will not destroy the forest. He said they can mine and not destroy the forest, that’s his only assurance but there is nothing like bauxite mining in a watershed.
There is nothing like that and I think we will want to challenge every Ghanaian to go look it up. There is nothing like that.” deputy national director for A Rocha Ghana Daryl Bosu told Africafeeds.com.
The China Connection
Government of Ghana is seeking to mine bauxite in the Atewa Forest Reserve in a deal which will see the country benefit from $2 billion worth of infrastructure projects from the China Development Bank in exchange for the mineral.
The Sino-hydro barter deal which was approved by a one sided Parliament following a boycott from the minority, according to government is expected to address the road infrastructure deficit in the West African Nation.
Although the first tranche of the money; $500 million is yet to be released, movements have already started in clearing access roads into the Atewa Forest Reserve for commencement of the bauxite mining.
The Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Corporation, GIADEC established by an Act of parliament is the body leading the mining activities.
Depleting Ghana’s Forest Cover
A recent report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) disclosed Ghana lost a 60 per cent of its forest cover between 2017 and 2018, the highest in the world.
The report curled from the Global Forest Watch (GFW) used updated remote sensing and satellite data from the University of Maryland and estimates that there was a 60% decrease in Ghana’s primary rainforest within a year.
Ghana was closely followed by its neighbor Côte d’Ivoire which lost 28% of its forest cover. In total the world lost 3.6 million hectares of primary rainforest last year—an area the size of Belgium in 2018.
Ghana for many years was one of the leading timber exporters in the world. This has resulted in its forest cover shrinking drastically. A report from Ghana’s government agency, Forestry Commission in a 2016 report disclosed about 80% of the country’s forest resources had been lost to illegal logging since 1990.
A recent UN biodiversity report urged the governments across the world to protect wildlife or all life on Earth will suffer, including humans.
“The government of Ghana has a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate that it is committed to preserving the country’s natural life support system and ecosystems that are critical for the health of the global environment by preventing mining in the Atewa Forest and instead designating it a national park” said Russ Mittermeier, GWC’s Chief Conservation Officer and chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group.