ILLICIT artisanal small-scale gold mining activities which have been the bane of the Western Region have now assumed an alarming proportion.
Previously, those activities were concentrated in Tarkwa, Bogoso and Prestea-Hemang, but recently, they have spread to almost all the northern part of the region.
The illegal activities, popularly known as “galamsey”, have extended to Mpohor, Damang, Akyempim, Teleku Bokazo and between Wassa Akropong and Ayanfuri, while the Pra River, Tano River and the Bonsa River have not been left out.
In Prestea-Hemang, the activities of the illegal gold miners have contributed to the pollution of River Ankobra.
The irony of the situation is that between Wassa Akropong and Ayanfuri, a large stretch of the land at both sides of the road, is being degraded at a very fast rate by the illegal “galamsey” operators in such a way that if nothing is done about the situation soon, that portion of the Tarkwa-Bogoso-Ayanfuri road would have to be closed to traffic.
A study has shown that very few of the operators have acquired licences to undertake artisanal small-scale mining even though they are aware that their operations are illegal and are in conflict with the laws of the country.
The major tools and equipment used by the illegal miners depend on the type of operations being undertaken.
Their operations include dig-and-wash, ghettos, hard-rock, open-pit and underground.
Those engaged in the dig-and-wash use simple tools such as shovels, pickaxes, chisels, fuel pumps, generator sets, water hoses, head pans and buckets.
Hard-rock and ghetto operators on the other hand, also use explosives, while those engaged in open-pit operation use heavy bulldozers and excavators. All the “galamsey” operators use mercury for amalgamation.
The activities of the illegal miners have serious negative impact on the environment, health and safetyof the residents.
The indiscriminate scooping of the land has greatly caused land degradation in the affected areas, particularly between Wassa Akropong and Ayanfuri, rendering the whole area including the road virtually flooded at all times.
Water pollution, through turgidity and application of chemicals and dust generation, are some of the negative impacts of the mining activities on the environment.
The blasting of hard rocks and diversion of rivers for alluvial gold mining affect the environment.
Inhaling of chemicals, dust and smoke from ‘Chinvan’ stone crushers, believed to have been supplied by some Chinese, and the use of hard drugs by the operators also have health implications.
Besides, subsidence and physical injuries as a result of the operators not using protective clothing and falling from heights are some of the safety problems.
The Western Regional Minister, Mr Paul Evans Aidoo, complained bitterly about the alarming situation when he inaugurated the reconstituted Western Regional Co-ordinating Council recently.
“One other challenge that faces us as partners in development is the issue of ‘galamsey’. The practice of illegal mining has been with us for a long time,” he stated.
Mr Aidoo said areas where ‘galamsey’ was pronounced included Prestea, Mpohor, Damang, Akyempim, Tarkwa and Teleku Bokazo.
He explained that in all those areas, confrontations had occurred between the ‘galamsey’ operators and the established mining companies.
“Galamsey’ is now assuming alarming proportions where waterbodies are being polluted. For example, ‘galamsey’ is taking place in the Pra, Bonsa and Tano rivers,” he noted with concern.
Mr Aidoo said the Regional Security Council had already carried out an eviction exercise in River Pra and that similar exercises would be undertaken until the problem was resolved.
Even though the regional minister has sounded a note of warning to the illegal gold miners, he must exhibit the political will to carry out the eviction exercise.
This has become imperative because his predecessors had carried out similar exercises using the security personnel but it became a nine days’ wonder, as those who were evicted came back in full business few days after their eviction.
Some organisations have also advocated the licensing of the operators to legalise their activities, so that their operations could be controlled and also given technical support.