Galamsey: Environmental Impact of Illegal Gold Mining in Ghana
By Darci Stanger, Staff Editor
For several years, the government in Ghana has been aware of a major issue affecting the environmental well being of its country but has been unable to find a resolution. Illegal gold mining, better known in Ghana as Galamsey, has taken off in rural areas, leading to extreme environmental destruction.
Illegal gold mining occurs around the edges of existing, regulated mines and appears to be almost uncontrollable. Galamsey has resulted in seriously degraded lands including major forest degradation and deforestation. The loss of forests has changed the biosphere of the affected areas and has resulted in a loss of productive farmland. Illegal miners often leave huge pits in the earth and have not properly removed the topsoil prior to digging making it almost impossible to return the earth to a usable status.
“Galamsey has resulted in seriously degraded lands including major forest degradation and deforestation.”
By far the biggest environmental impact has been on the rivers and waterways in Ghana, with an estimated 75% of these waterways polluted. One of the rivers most affected has been the Offin River, which has been blocked resulting in a reduction of the flow and the access of water to residents downstream. Upstream, the residents must deal with flooding, which often destroys farmland or cocoa fields. Even if citizens are able to access water, it is likely to be contaminated by the chemicals and heavy metals that are used in the mining process, poisoning those who use the water.
The government has been able to reduce the illegal mining slightly with a National security operation that is tasked with patrolling mine sites but it has not been able to keep up with the demands. The area to be monitored and policed is vast and spread out, and lack of appropriate personnel and technology make it difficult to implement these operations. Even in areas where there might be adequate personnel, the illegal gold miners have started working at night, when monitoring is at its lowest. The miners have begun fighting back against the government and have begun to arm themselves, not hesitating to fire upon members of the national security taskforce, making the policing of this situation an even more volatile situation.
“The miners have begun fighting back against the government and have begun to arm themselves…”
A major issue in the attempt to combat the environmental concerns is that many of the rural areas that are affected by the illegal gold mining don’t have access to the proper equipment or technology to unblock rivers, purify water or reclaim the land. With a struggling economy the government is unlikely to be able to dedicate the required resources to remedy the situation.
So how will Ghana be able to remedy this situation? Their best bet is to pursue funding from private organizations dealing with environmental protection. The government isn’t likely to be able to offer additional assistance anytime soon, and time is of the essence as the pollution and environmental degradation only continues to get worse.