After five years of sustained and spirited measures implemented by the government since 2017 to stop illegal mining in the country, the fight against the menace is far from over.
Illegal mining, popularly known as ‘galamsey’, continues to wreak havoc to land, forest reserves and water bodies in mining communities, especially in the Ashanti, Eastern, Western and Western North regions.
The illegal miners have destroyed vast swathes of farmlands and left behind gullies that serve as death traps to the residents.
The Daily Graphic’s visit to a number of the mining areas in the Ashanti, Eastern, Western and Western North regions revealed the resurgence of the illegal mining in such enormity that the local authorities were almost helpless about the situation.
The communities include the Amansie West, Amansie Central, Amansie South, Akrofuom, Adansi North districts as well as the Obuasi municipality, all in the Ashanti Region.
In the Ellembelle, Mpohor District, Tarkwa and Prestea Huni-Valley in the Western Region as well as the Aowin and the Bibiani-Anhwiaso-Bekwai municipalities in the Western North Region, the illegal small- scale mining was pervasive.
The story was not any different at Nkatieso in the Bibiani-Anwhiaso-Bekwai municipality.
Areas such as Teleku-Bokazo, Nkroful and Esiama in the Ellembelle District are safe havens for the galamsey activities.
In the Mpohor District in the Western Region, illegal mining activities had claimed many farmlands and left the Subri River heavily polluted.
In many of the areas, the galamsey activities had created insecurity challenges because of the influx of migrants to the mining communities.
At Manso Adubia and Manso Nkwanta in the Amansie South and Amansie West districts, for instance, the paper observed that the galamsey operators were virtually on a field day.
The roads linking the towns in these districts were dotted with excavators, abandoned pits, some of which have turned into mini-dams.
Sounds of excavators being used by the illegal miners could be heard from a distance.
Some of the illegal miners were also seen working briskly in some pits along the trunk roads.
The activities of the galamsey operators had also badly damaged portions of rail lines in the area.
The Oda, Offin and Subriso rivers had turned milky-brown, giving the indication that they were at the receiving end of galamsey activities.
Oda River is at Amansie Central; the Offin flows from Ashanti Region to the Central Region, while Subri is in the Adansi North District.
The story at Amansie Central and Akrofuom districts was not different as the galamsey operators had left behind gullies and abandoned pits that bred mosquitoes.
In the Eastern Region, the hotspots include Akyem Akokoaso, parts of Akyem Abuakwa South and Atewa.
Residents raise concern
Some residents of Wamase and Akrofuom in the Akrofuom District shared harrowing stories about the social impact of the galamsey menace on their communities.
Emmanuel Owusu expressed worry about the uncovered pits dotted across Wamase and said they had turned into breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
For 57-year-old Alex Awuah, galamsey activities had caused many untimely deaths in the area and needed to be tackled head-on to prevent further deaths.
"I can tell you that the number of people who died in uncovered galamsey pits in this area in less than 10 years are 32. Recently, a boy who completed senior high school (SHS) was running away from the police who had come to stop galamsey activities; but he fell into a pit and died," Ishmael Awuah, another resident, said.
Local authorities helpless
While the galamsey activities go on with impunity, the local authorities, who are supposed to stop the illegal activities, appear helpless.
The District Chief Executive (DCE) for Amansie South, Clement Opoku Gyamfi, described the destruction of land and forest reserves in the area by galamsey operators as disheartening.
"Galamsey is a serious menace, a canker and an albatross around our necks. We have not had it easy dealing with the menace at all because these people have their mode of operation. If you try to strategise to curb their activities, they keep changing their approach," he said.
Mr Gyamfi said the galamsey activities had caused many people to migrate from places to Amansie South, and that development had brought about insecurity in the area.
He called for the introduction of the community mining scheme (CMS) in the district as that would help reduce the illegal mining activities in the area.
"The fact is that people want to mine; and they know that there is gold in their land. However, large-scale companies have taken over; so they will definitely encroach on concessions and mine illegally. Once we want to curb it, there should be an alternative, and that is why CMS has to be introduced here," he said.
For his part, the DCE for Amansie West, Nii Lartey Ollenu, said the galamsey menace was a herculean task, if not a lost battle.
When the Daily Graphic spoke to him on March 25, this year about measures being taken to curb the illegal mining menace, he said all attempts by the District Security Council (DISEC) to clamp down on their activities had proven to be non-productive.
"Just yesterday, I deployed a taskforce to the field and they seized three excavators and took out their control boards. We are doing our best but the fact is that the people are difficult to tackle.
"They operate like armed robbers. You can go after them with all force, and even kill them; but they keep changing their strategy because it is a livelihood for them," Mr Ollenu said.
The Amansie West DCE stressed, however, that since the gold deposit remained the property of the state, the Amansie West DISEC would continue to do its best to protect it from criminal elements.
Galamsey affects education
Apart from the destruction of land and water resources, the DCE for Amansie Central, Michael Donkor, said the galamsey menace had negatively impacted on education in the area.
He said it was worrying that children in their teens, who should be in school, were actively engaged in galamsey at the expense of their education.
Mr Donkor said the level of truancy in schools in the area had reached alarming proportions and gave stakeholders in the education sector sleepless nights.
"Many children of school age spend their day in galamsey sites. What they say is that the purpose of going to school is to make money and they get that money from galamsey," he said.
Mr Donkor said a taskforce had been formed by the district assembly to monitor mining sites to ensure that all children were withdrawn and taken to school.
In Aowin, some of the residents complained that many acres of cocoa farms had been destroyed by the illegal miners, while rivers such as Tano, Boin, Dusoe, had all turned brown as a result of the indiscriminate mining activities.
The leader of the Aowin South Concern Youth Association, Patrick Afful, alleged there was a cartel behind the illegal mining menace in the municipality.
"The galamsey situation here is getting worst by the day. As I speak now, food and water supply has been a major issue here," Mr Afful told the Daily Graphic in a telephone conversation.
They will face law
The Deputy Minister of Lands and Natural Resources in charge of Mines, George Mireku Duker, warned that all persons who were still adamant to stop the illegality, would be flushed out and fully made to face the law.
"It is unfortunate that people are still recalcitrant and not listening to calls to stop galamsey. We will go after them, and not rest until the small-scale mining space is sanitised," he said.
Mr Duker indicated that the Lands and Natural Resources Ministry would continue to work with other state institutions, local authorities and security agencies to deal with the menace.
The Tarkwa-Nsuaem Member of Parliament (MP) urged the municipal and district security councils in mining areas to up their game to close in on the activities of the illegal miners.
The deputy minister urged local stakeholders and residents of mining communities to see the fight against galamsey as a collective responsibility to save the environment and protect livelihoods.
To that end, he called on local people to help put an end to foreigners’ participation in small-scale mining as it was against the country's mining laws.
"People from Burkina Faso, Togo, Cote d'Ivoire and Benin are involved in small-scale mining in some communities, and it is disheartening that Ghanaians are allowing this to happen.
“Animals are dying because they drink from diverted water that has been polluted by mercury," Mr Duker said.
Touching on initiatives that will be rolled out to tackle the menace, he said the Lands and Natural Resources Ministry had acquired five patrol boats that would be strategically positioned on water bodies, while river wardens would be deployed to monitor illegal mining activities in water bodies.
"We need to permanently deal with mining in water bodies so these river wardens will be positioned there to monitor and report any illegal activities on the water bodies to the security agencies for them to act on it swiftly," he said.
Mr Duker also said processes were underway to deploy tracking devices on movable mining equipment to help monitor their movement.
"We have reached advanced stages with this tracking system and it will be launched very soon. We believe that the tracking system will help to reduce irresponsible mining activities," he said.
CMS way to go
Again, the deputy minister said the ministry and the Minerals Commission were focusing more on promoting the CMS to help reduce illegal mining activities.
Mr Duker observed that if more licences were given to local people to mine under the CMS, it would largely address galamsey.
He underscored the need for the fight against illegal mining to be depoliticised since such a tendency emboldened galamsey operators to perpetrate the illegal act.
When he took over the reins of power, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo vowed to clamp down on illegal mining activities in the country.
He put his Presidency on the line by pledging to fight the menace head-on, even if it meant losing the next election.
Subsequently, the government, through the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, declared a relentless war on galamsey.
From 2017, the government took the fight against illegal mining to a higher level by banning all forms of small-scale mining in the country for almost two years until it was lifted on December 14, 2018.
With an overwhelming support of the media, key stakeholders were rallied to take the war to the galamsey operators on all fronts.
An Inter-Ministerial Committee on illegal mining (IMCIM) was also set up, comprising relevant ministries such as Lands and Natural Resources; Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI); Local Government and Rural Development; Defence; and the Interior, to help bring sanity to the small-scale mining sector.
This was followed by the deployment of Operation Vanguard, a joint police-military taskforce, into mining communities to halt illegal mining activities.
Hundreds of excavators, boats for dredging and washing the ore, known as changfan machines, and other equipment were seized by Operation Vanguard at mining sites.
After the lifting of the ban, there was resurgence in galamsey activities in many parts of the country.
The galamstop drones and mining guards were also deployed to support the crackdown of the menace.
Fight not over
When he delivered a message on the state of the nation on January 6, 2021, prior to the dissolution of the Seventh Parliament, President Akufo-Addo called for an "open and dispassionate conversation" about galamsey and its future.
He observed that the devastating nature of illegal mining required a non-partisan conversation and broader stakeholder engagement on how to come out of the woods.
"Should we allow or should we not allow galamsey, the illegal mining that leads to the pollution of our water bodies and the devastation of our landscape? As I have said often, the Almighty having blessed us with considerable deposits of precious minerals, there would always be mining in Ghana,” he observed.
Following that call, the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Samuel Abu Jinapor, convened a two-day national dialogue on small-scale mining in Accra on April 14, last year, bringing together all stakeholders to find the way forward to winning the galamsey war.
President Akufo-Addo, who opened the dialogue, reiterated the need for "an impartial and non-partisan dialogue" for the country to reach a consensus on a sustainable method of mining minerals.
The conference, which was on the theme: “Sustainable small-scale mining for national development”, brought together all ministers of Lands and Natural Resources in the Fourth Republic, all political parties, parliamentary select committees, mining industry players, faith-based organisations and civil society organisations.
At the end of the dialogue, the participants called on the government to take steps to put in place systems for the rigid application of the laws against illegal small-scale mining.
A 15-point communique read on April 15, this year by Mr Jinapor at the end of the dialogue stressed that sanctions and penalties imposed by the Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act, 2019 (Act 995) should be applied to all those who infringed the law, irrespective of political colour or socio-economic status.
It described galamsey as a national emergency that required urgent and concerted effort to tackle.
It also called for similar consultations to be held in all mining regions and districts of the country.