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Galamsey impact: Experts call for decisive action to save nation

The country is on the verge of being plunged into irreparable environmental disaster with multi-layered consequential effects through the illegal mining scourge, environmental and health experts have warned. 

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The experts stressed that the wishy-washy approach to dealing with the menace had put the country at imminent risk of losing its land and water resources in the next few years.

Those who made the call are an Associate Professor of the Institute of Environment and Sanitation Studies (IESS) at the University of Ghana, Prof. Benedicta Y. Fosu-Mensah; a public health nutrition specialist at the University of Ghana School of Public Health, Prof. Richmond Aryeetey; and a public health specialist at the Department of Community Health at the University of Ghana Medical Centre (UGMC), Prof. Benedict N.L Calys-Tagoe.

Making technical presentations on the galamsey menace at a lecture organised by the University of Ghana last Friday to climax the Day of Scientific Renaissance of Africa (DSRA), they stressed that unless there was strong political will beyond rhetoric to fight illegal mining, commonly called galamsey locally, it would have dire consequences on Ghanaians.

The public lecture was held on the theme: "Galamsey: Preserving the environment, protecting our future". 

Commitment

Prof. Ofosu-Mensah said it was worrying that although the galamsey menace had generated a lot of discourse, there had not been a real political will to enforce stringent measures to halt the illegality.

"We can keep talking about galamsey, but if we do not see political will from the government, and a commitment by regulatory agencies to strictly enforce the laws, we will lose our forests, and water bodies and face serious environmental problems," she said.

She further underscored the need for stronger collaboration between the government, academia and actors in the industry to create a unified approach to tackle the menace holistically.

"The fight against the environmental impact of illegal mining is not just for the government alone; it is a battle for all of us because our lives are at stake," she stressed. Prof. Fosu-Mensah also called for targeted investment in research and innovation to help promote sustainable mining practices. 

Health perspective

Touching on the health implications of galamsey on Ghanaians, Prof. Calys-Tagoe said the crude method used by workers at galamsey sites, ranging from excavation and grinding, the use of bare hands for washing ore, and the use of mercury for amalgamation, exposed them to serious health risks.

He added that there was evidence that galamsey had affected the sexual health of miners and residents in communities closer to illegal mining sites.

"The galamsey operators prey on young girls in those communities and engage in unsafe sex, which leads to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases," he said.

Prof. Calys-Tagoe also said that given that illegal miners put their lives on the line in their bid to survive, it was important to introduce mercury-free mining techniques to reduce exposure to the chemical.

He also stressed that political leaders needed to go beyond the rhetoric and be committed to fighting the galamsey menace to save lives. 

Social impacts

For his part, Prof. Aryeetey said research had shown that transactional sex was rampant in mining areas and that posed a serious threat to members of the public. Again, he said galamsey was gradually changing the diets of residents of mining communities because of the high cost of food in those areas.

Apart from the harmful environmental impact of galamsey, there were livelihood issues as well because people were losing their lands to the menace, Prof. Aryeetey pointed out.

"Illegal mining has also become a barrier to education because many of the children who should be in school are in the galamsey sites and this raises child safety issues," he said. 

Background

The African Union (AU) passed a resolution at its 46th Ordinary Session held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1987 requiring all member states to celebrate June 30 every year as the Day of Scientific Renaissance of Africa (DSRA).

The occasion was set to remind all African governments and people about the critical role that science and technology play in national development and the need to prioritise it for sustainable growth.

The University of Ghana institutionalised the celebration in 2022, with a focus on plastic waste and the use of scientific innovations to tackle the menace. 

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The panel discussion, which was held by the university to climax the 2024 DSRA, brought together experts in science and the environment to explore the impact of galamsey on various sectors of the economy and to recommend strategies to deal with the menace.

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