Illegal miners have taken their operations into forest reserves in Ashanti region
The Forestry Services Division is asking for military and police assistance to curb the influx illegal miners in forest reserves in the Ashanti region.
Officials say the satiation has reached uncontrolled levels as the destruction of river bodies, aquatic life as well as plant worsens.
Water bodies which serve as the only source of drinking water for communities in Amansie Central and West, Atwima Nwabiagya, Ahafo Ano North Districts, among others, have been polluted.
Forestry officials are overwhelmed by the invasion of reserves by illegal miners who have mounted several Champhi machines, a Chinese-technology, on Aboabo, Offin and Odaw streams.
The widespread invasion is visible in Apraprama, Supima, Subin Shelter Belt, Disiri and Asenayo as well as Tano-Offin and Prako Reserves and several others are under constant siege.
The Champhi comes with two engines one that powers the entire system and another that pumps water from and discharge waste into the stream.
About 50 of the machines manned by at least four men sit on the Odaw River within Odaw Forest Reserve in the Amansie Central District.
The once colourless stream now looks milky as the sound of Champhi continuously rams across the river.
Efforts by forestry officials to clamp down on the miners have been unsuccessful as they outwit the officers by swimming in the muddied water to escape.
Pursuing them comes at a cost to the Bekwai District Forestry office especially when there are no live jackets while small canoes are used to pursue the illegal miners.
Professional divers carry forestry officials on their back to be able to reach the other side of Aboabo River after using the canoe to cross the Odaw stream in pursuit of the miners.
Nonetheless, officials persevered until they managed to set about 20 of the Champhi machines ablaze.
Assistant District Manager at Bekwai Forestry Office, Emmanuel Agyapong Donkor is overwhelmed by the development.
He says about four kilometers of the forest has been destroyed by the illegal miners.
“You have a lot of trees falling down because of the activities of the illegal miners and looking at the coloring of the river too, they’ve caused a lot of pollution to the water body. They have done a lot of damage to the water body,” he said.
Key and important plant species such as medicinal plants and game species have been lost as the destruction of the forest is so glare.
The Odaw River, which hitherto can be accessed on foot, has had its banks widened. This means one can only get to the other end of the river via canoe, boat or swim.
According to Mr. Agyapong, it will take a police-military intervention to flush out all illegal miners from the area.
“There is a lot of destruction caused to the Odaw Forest. The river course was not as wide as you see it [today] they have widened the banks of the river because the mineral resources are within the river banks.
“So what they do is they take the soils from the river banks and wash widening the course of the river. You these banks of the river are habitats for some of the tress and animals so we are losing all these diverse forms of species,” he said.
A distance from the river bank is Aborokyire, a small community whose inhabitants, hitherto, prided themselves as farmers.
The wooden sheds house illegal miners mostly from Volta and Bono Ahafo Regions.
Akwasi Anto, a native of Yeji-Kojobuffuor, who owns one of the wooden homes here had abandoned a less-paid masonry and farming ventures to engage in galamsey.
He has no immediate plans to give up the lucrative galamsey business, having acquired a boat at GH5,000, which he tells Nhyira FM he raised in three weeks.
For Anto and several of his colleagues, it would be difficult to abandon this lucrative galamsey business.
The activities of the illegal miners are peculiar not only to the Odaw Reserve.
The Rapid Response Team of the Forestry Commission cannot handle this alone said Assistant Regional Director of the Forestry Services Division.
Isaac Noble Eshun wants support from all stakeholders including police, military, media and the judiciary to fight the canker.
According to him, punishments meted out by the courts to offending miners are not punitive enough.
“In the past we have arrested illegal miners, both Ghanaians and foreigners and when we hand them over to prosecuting agencies, we are mostly not happy with the outcome.
“So we want the police especially to step up their prosecutorial role. That is the way they can assist us as a commission to deal with this menace. And the judiciary to also apply the relevant punitive measures as stated by law,” Mr Eshun appealed.