A faith based Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), A Rocha Ghana has added its voice to the numerous calls by civil society and environmental protection groups to the government to reconsider its decision to give out the Atewa forest range in the Eastern Region for bauxite mining.
The organization which is on a campaign to protect the Atewa Forest Reserve and its water bodies believe that the forest range holds a more lucrative potential than hosting a rather dangerous extractive activity such as mining.
According to the NGO, the forest is a headwater for three key rivers in Ghana, the Densu, Ayensu and the Birim and therefore mining will pose an environmental threat that will have far more devastating consequence than galamsey and further expressed concern over a looming water crisis if the government goes ahead with its intended plans.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, the National Director of the NGO, Dr Seth Appiah-Kubi affirming the NGO’s commitment to the campaign, said mining in the Atewa forest will not only destroy the ecosystem of the forest but the afore mentioned water bodies which will affect water supply to about 5 million Ghanaians.
He, therefore, called on the government to exempt Atewa forest from its bauxite mining plan and instead concentrate its efforts in developing a tourism infrastructure that will make the forest a national park and improve its protection status.
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A Rocha Ghana is a faith based environmental NGO that provides conservation interventions aimed at contributing to the sustainable management of important ecological habitats. It also strengthens the capacity of communities to adapt to current trends in climate change and other environmental threats.
A 2018 memorandum between Ghana and China to leverage the country’s bauxite deposits will see Ghana cede 5% of its bauxite resources to the Chinese who in turn will finance infrastructure project that includes rails, roads and bridge networks to the tune of $2 billion dollars.
Parliament has already passed into law the Ghana Bauxite Integrated Aluminum Industry Act which would provide a legal framework to exploit Ghana’s bauxite deposits.
However, the NGO believes that it is still not late for the government to change its mind stressing that government can redirect its focus to other areas that are not currently under protection or alternatively use green pathways that will still give jobs and secure the water bodies and livelihood of the people.
He said, at a time when Ghana is working hard to meets its obligations under United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, it was crucial for government and other stakeholders to assess the Atewa situation critically bearing in mind the immediate impact its decision will have on the environment and the people before taking any steps.
Dr Appiah-Kubi argued that although Ghana may benefit financially in the short term with mining, the evidence of a better option lies in sustainably harnessing the ecological benefits of the forest which includes agricultural production.
He suggested that the government can utilise the one district, one factory initiative to establish an agro-industry that will provide jobs, money and livelihood." This provides a good alternative that is also sustainable," he noted
Dr Appiah-Kubi said it will be unfortunate for the government to disregard all the appeals and calls to suspend its mining plan, stating that mining has not always been a boon for the communities or the country.
According to him, Awaso which is a popular mining town in the country is in its 79th year of mining bauxite but remains one of the poorest areas in Ghana, adding that the community has not seen any improvement or transformation, or the gains reflected in the livelihood of the people living there.
"Obviously in the short term we are going to have some money, but do we make every decision based on the short-term benefits without considering the long-term implications," he queried.
The Director of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Sustainability Center, Matthias Boehning admonished government not to be motivated by the financial considerations but rather in protecting and conserving a forest that is widely considered as priceless.
He said as a Christian organization operating in the areas of conservation and environmental stewardship, the ultimate expression of faith is not only to protect and sustain the environment but to empower churches and other faith-based and religious organizations to take a leading role in the development of global environmental solutions.
Using the bible verse “Love your neighbor as yourself” to illustrate his position on the matter, noted that; “how can we love our neighbours if we are destroying the environment they live in at the same time.”
Mr Boehning observed that the situation has not generated enough public attention both locally and internationally and that it was important to let people know that the Atewa forest is under threat of being turned to a large-scale bauxite mining site.
In that regard, he will bring up the issue at the next United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) meeting which is expected to take place in March this year.
He called on Ghanaians and concerned citizens of the world to speak out and mobilise for the protection and conservation of the Atewa forest.