Kwame Amponsah 26, abandoned his job as a farm hand to join friends to engage in illegal mining popularly called Galamsey, at Wassa Akropong In the Western Region.
He says he abandoned farming because it was not making life meaningful for him to be able to cater for his family.
He however admitted that although the revenue opportunities for illegal mining are better, the work remains life threatening.
Kwame is among hundreds of people striving to earn a living through Galamsey.
The trappings of Galamsey is diverse but the gains are forthright. The financial reward is handy despite the environmental degradation it brings as well as other challenges associated with it.
Mining is a major economic activity in many developing countries like Ghana, where the industry in gold-rich localities in the country could be traced back to the days of British colonialism.
Ghana’s huge mineral wealth is well known as the country is ranked ninth in the world for discovered gold deposits.
Daniel Nanor, a Researcher says small-scale mining was once a respected traditional vocation.
When government officially legalised the practice in the late 1980s, it brought to the fore some challenges, including the mechanism by which mining concessions were given to peasants.
The process is cumbersome and slow and therefore forced many people to mine illicitly.
The mining process involves removal of top soils together with plant species and excavation of the subsoil into narrow and wide trenches.
The activities of small-scale miners are localised in the lower slopes and in valley floors especially in the forest zone where water is available.
The areas which are acquired through temporary purchase from landowners for the mining activities are indiscriminately assaulted in search of gold by able-bodied men who muddy the soil while women provide labour intensive services such as fetching of water for the washing of discovered gold.
Illegal mining has become a major source of livelihood for persons living around legal mining communities, mainly due to the continuous rise of the price of the commodity on the world market.
The increasing number of people mining illegally across the length and breadth of the country is alarming and the trail of environmental destruction left behind by this practice has assumed national concern.
The Wassa Amenfi East District of the Western Region is a typical example where activities of small scale miners are polluting water bodies and threatening the health of the people in the area.
Illegal miners in the area are using dangerous substances like cyanide and mercury to pollute River Ankobra.
In an interview with the Ghana News Agency Mr Joseph Baah-Darkoh, Wassa Amenfi East District Planning said: “We are sitting on a time bomb and if no drastic measures are taken by the government, it could result in a serious outbreak of diseases and deaths.”
Mr Stephen Baidoo Acheampong, District Chief Executive, blamed chiefs and other land owners for contributing to the increasing spate of illegal mining in the area.
He said the indigenes release lands to operatives of these illegal activities without informing the district authorities, thus making it very difficult for the assembly to monitor and regulate activities of the galamsey operators.
“We only hear from residents when they are faced with challenges from such operations. They completely sideline the assembly when releasing lands for these activities,” he said.
He expressed worry about galamsey activities and the negative effect it is having on the environment and other natural resources, more importantly water bodies.
Destructive floods in parts of the country have also been blamed largely on the activities of illegal miners and many social commentators and environmentalist have advocated stricter regimes to flush out their activities.
Findings from studies carried out by the Water Research Institute (WRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research on the Hiawa River, a tributary of Ankobra River at Wassa Akropong is that the citizens of the town who drink and use the water for domestic purposes are discovering very high levels of colour change, turbidity and suspended solids.
The levels recorded were far above World Health Organisation’s recommended levels.
The study also found out that heavy metals used in galamsey operations such as mercury for gold refinery had adversely affected the water quality abstracted downstream for drinking purposes.
WRI provides ample evidence of the level of contamination of water consumed by citizens in the Wassa Akropong area.
WRI is collaborating with SEND-GHANA and CONIWAS, two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to implement a project titled; “Deepening linkages between Research, Advocacy and Media practitioners in Ghana for greater policy influence and impact.
The project, funded by Southern Africa Trust, an NGO will among other activities translate research on water pollution into documents that are handy, easily accessible and user-friendly to assist affected citizens in the Wassa Akropong and surrounding communities to appreciate the devastating effect of water pollution and to participate in the advocacy process to seek improvement in water service delivery in the area.
The Sustainable Development concept by the Ecologically Sustainable Development Working Group on Mining states the need to: “ensure that mineral raw material needs of society are met, without compromising the ability either of future societies to meet their needs, or of natural environment to sustain indefinitely the quality of environmental services such as climate systems, biological diversity and ecological.
There is no better time to save the environment from further degradation than now.