Warrick Stewart, an Ecologist, who is also Mining and Biodiversity Expert has told an Accra High Court that, it is near certainty that restoration of the Atewa forest reserve will not be possible nor appropriate in terms of national designation and international good and best practices for mining. Mr Stewart, who is based in South Africa is in the country to act as an expert witness on the impact of mining on the Atewa range forest reserve. A Rocha Ghana and 10 other plaintiffs are challenging the government’s move to mine bauxite in the Atewa Range Forest contending that the government is undertaking mining activities in the Forest without mineral rights. The Plaintiffs are urging the court to compel the government to restore or pay the cost of damages that had been caused as a result of recognizance, prospecting and clearing of roads in the Forest. Under cross-examination from the prosecution led by Leona Johnson-Abassah on Tuesday, Mr Stewart told the court that, the Atewa Range forest reserve is recognized at Regional, National, and global levels as one of the most important sciences in the world for the protection of biodiversity. He said the forest protects a number of internationally recognize threatened species and any industrial-scale mining will result in the loss of the majority of this upland evergreen forest and the species that it harbors. He said even though efforts are typically made to rehabilitate or restore natural areas of mining, in the context of Atewa forest, there are substantial constraints to restoration being possible based on international designation of the reserve and the impact of industrial bauxite mining. “It's near certainty that restoration of the forest will not be possible nor appropriate in terms of national designation and international good and best practices for mining”, he added. When pressed by the lead prosecution to explain why there is near certainty that restoration will not be possible, he explained that, even though one cannot rule out the potential for restoration to be successful if infinite resources were available, on a practical basis, restoration is almost certainly impossible. Projector in court State Attorney, Leona Johnson-Abassah pointed to the witness that, the spatial extent of the proposed bauxite mining is not known currently and what basis therefore is his conclusion that mining bauxite in the Atewa forest would lead to environmental, social and other vices that cannot be reclaimed in any shape or form. In his attempt to answer the question, Stewart pleaded the court to allow him use his laptop to project his answers, a request which was accepted. Through his projected presentation, he explained that available public information from Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Corporation (GIADEC) estimated bauxite production at atewa to be 5 million tonnes per annum and based on a simple calculation as provided by GIADEC, the likely minimum extent of area that will be mined at atewa will be 3,484 hectres. He explained further to the court, “Based on the public information available from GIADEC recognizing though that mining doesn't get implemented in consolidated solid form and therefore will likely occupy a greater area than displayed here, this will result in the loss of majority of the upland evergreen forest at atewa which is essentially the heart and lungs of the forest”. Exhibit concerning GIADEC expunged In the heat of the cross examination, State Attorney, Leona Johnson-Abassah sought to dig deep about when he came across the information from GIADEC and this caught the attention of the Judge, Justice John Nyante Nyadu who ruled that, the witness refrain from using any information from GIADEC as it is not in evidence. He however noted that counsel for the plaintiff, Martin Kpebu knows what to do if he wants to get such information in evidence.
Threatened species
In his witness statement Stewart stated that, six (6) butterfly species and various plants species found in Atewa forest are not known to occur elsewhere in Ghana but the state Attorney asked whether his assertion was based on a research he conducted in other parts of the country. His answer was no but explained that, the information is based upon published scientific report and journal articles and it is therefore base on best known information. He said “There are international process for the verification of this information undertaken by global experts and these are extensive process based on strict criteria and take a long period of time. This information is therefore rigorous and defensible and did not require me to verify during the site visit. The information reflected for example on the key biodiversity areas standards and guidelines as reflected in my report".
The plaintiffs are seeking the following reliefs; A declaration that the right to life and dignity as enshrined in the Constitution of Ghana, 1992 include (a) the right to a clean and healthy environment and (b) the right to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations. A declaration that mining of bauxite in the Atewa Range Forest violates the right to life and dignity as enshrined under articles 13 and 15 of the Constitution of Ghana (1992). An order, compelling the Government of Ghana and its agents to take the necessary steps to protect Atewa Range Forest in accordance with its constitutional obligations as contained under article 36(9) of the Constitution (1992). An order, restraining the Government of Ghana, its assigns and agents, servants, workmen, allottees, and guarantees whatsoever and howsoever described from undertaking mining and its related activities in the Atewa Range Forest.