There is a polluted water crisis in the Atewa area as illegal miners continue to destroy the Atewa forest reserve located in the Eastern part of Ghana, including its water resources.
The Atewa Forest Reserve has been described by hydrologists as a Regional groundwater recharge and hydrologically sensitive area with three main rivers such as the Birim, Ayensu, and the Densu which draw their recharge from Atewa Mountain.
Known for providing life-sustaining water to millions of people in the surrounding villages, the once-pristine rivers had turned murky due to the activities of illegal mining, compelling residents to resort to the traditional system of purifying water by using alum. Others too have to buy a sachet of water daily in order to survive.
A recent visit to the forest by a reporter of ghenvironment.com revealed that, illegal miners continue to desecrate the forest on a daily basis in their quest to mine gold, especially in communities such as Kwabeng, Sagyimase, Asiakwa, and Kibi, which are all towns close to the Atewa forest.
The reporter observed that, illegal miners currently use pickaxes, water-pumping machines, gold detector machines, and other low-tech tools to fell trees and dig several deep pits within the forest in search of gold hidden beneath the earth's surface. Few others also use excavators.
“We've been struggling for a long time for potable water. Our source of water has turned brown because illegal miners in the forest have polluted the water", said Kofi Adu, a resident of Asiakwa, a town at the foot of the Atewa forest.
Although the Atewa forest reserve has been designated as a Globally Significant Biodiversity Area (GSBA) and is home to some of the world's most endangered animal species, such as pangolins, rare frogs, birds, and butterflies, the state has done very little to protect it from the threat of illegal mining.
With state institutions playing the ostrich and failing to stop these illegal miners, the residents have given up any hope of getting a lasting solution to the problem.
“We have lost our farmland, and water to wicked miners who don't care about us and our forest, but who will come to our rescue. Maybe when all is gone they will realise how important the forest is”, the despaired Adu told Michael Agyapong Agyapa of ghenvironment.com.
An illegal miner who claimed to have stopped the activity and spoke on condition of anonymity said, the permission granted to some small-scale mining companies belonging to non-indigenes to mine in the area, pushes them to go into the forest to mine since they are poor and cannot sit aloof as others make wealth from mineral deposits on their lands.
It is difficult to control
Forest officers tasked to fight the illegal miners have described the fight as very challenging.
“It is very difficult to control these wicked souls destroying the forest but we are doing our best to save the forest from dying. If one dares step foot in the forest and we get hold of him the law will drag the person,” Emmanuel Antwi district forest manager Abuakwa South said.
He blames the lack of forest guards and other resources as the main reason why the illegality is being perpetrated.
“If they go in the middle of the reserve, you might not know and there are so many routes to enter the forest so they may enter through a point and if they are there doing the mining unless somebody inside there hints you or if the guards maintaining the boundaries see footpaths, they follow it and get to that point. Some of them work under the cover of darkness but even in the daytime, they do it. The forest guard cannot be everywhere at the same time. He will be moving so they may study him and operate at his blind side and it is not an easy job. We do our best but people always try to outwit us,” Mr Antwi said concerning the illegal miners in the forest.
The government in September 2017 announced plans to procure drones worth $3 million to help fight the illegality, especially in hard-to-reach areas.
According to the Abuakwa South Forestry Manager, they have taken delivery of the drones and assigned pilots to fly them to gather information about the movement of illegal persons within the forest and enable the assembly and security officials to take action.
10 persons arrested for engaging in galamsey in Atewa Forest Reserve: Image source: Forestry Commission
It is getting out of control
Emmanuel Akyeanor Tabi, President for Concern Citizen of Atewa Landscape, said, illegal mining in the Atewa forest is getting out of control because many more youths from within and neighboring communities are attracted to perpetrate the crime due to the possibility of high profits.
“They are everywhere in the forest and it is very difficult [for forest guards] to get there. They are able to go there and stay there for days, using manpower…They can take an acre of land in a day because they are many. As they dig, the trees will fall and they mine around them. You will see a lot of devastation, a lot of areas in the forest have been mined and that is our worry. In the past, it was very few of them in the forest but now it is serious,” he said.
He added that because of the money they make, the illegal miners are never satisfied if they are convinced to shun the activity to take up alternative legal jobs.
Emmanuel Akyeanor Tabi, President for Concern Citizen Of Atewa Landscape Image source: Michael Agyapong Agyapa
Some community leaders pointed accusing fingers at top politicians and local chiefs as persons sabotaging the fight against illegal mining in the Atewa forest.
They cited instances where illegal small-scale miners were released back into the community hours after they were arrested after intervention from top state actors, including those in the current New Patriotic Party (NPP) government.
According to Mr Tabi, it is important that, the government takes the fight against illegal mining seriously to protect the unique Atewa forest reserve.