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Ghana risks Acute Water Shortage as Mining Devastates Water Bodies

In search of clean drinkin

In search of clean drinking water

As government of Ghana fights to find solution to the perennial water crisis that hits rural and urban communities in the country, human activities as well as commercial ventures have made a precarious situation even worse for locals.

Water bodies, which used to serve as intakes for water treatment plants providing potable water for urban communities, are either dying off or have been so polluted that it does not make economic or social sense to continue treating water from them for human consumption.

Activities such as farming, dumping of liquid and solid waste into rivers and streams, bush burning, illegal logging of timber and mining activities have been identified as the main threats to Ghana’s water security.

These activities result in seasonal water shortages, resulting in the reliance on unconventional sources and expensive processes of water production and distribution to meet growing water demands.

Official records say the capital, Accra, and neighbouring Tema reel under a 35 million-gallon water supply deficit. However, a new 40 million gallon treatment plant is being built on the Accra Plains to bridge this gap.

“I am not happy because most people cannot have access to potable water for household use,” said Collins Dauda, minister for Water Resources, Works and Housing, in an interview with Xinhua on the sides of the national program to climax the 2013 World Water Day celebrations.

The minister described how illegal miners diverted water courses, dug water beds with excavators from point to point while pouring chemicals into the remainder to polish their mineral finds.

They have so much polluted the water that the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) has had to spend higher volumes of chemicals to treat it for human consumption.

River Birim, near Kibi, about 91 km north of Accra, is one of these major sources of potable water heavily polluted by  illegal gold miners, known in local parlance as ‘Galamsey’ operators.

“When my team approached these illegal miners on Birim recently, they took to their heels as we advanced on them, but the sad part of the situation is that they returned the very next day after our operation to continue with their illegal activities,” Dauda lamented.

He called on all stakeholders, including traditional leaders, to team up with government in its efforts to deal with the illegal miners since these people lived in the communities and were known to the people.

In his presentation at a symposium to mark the World Water Day for this year, Kwakye Ameyaw, Director of Operations at the Ghana Forestry Commission, listed some critical activities that threatened forests that provided critical cover for water bodies in the country.

Mining, especially artisanal mining (including illegal mining), sand winning and the conversion of forests into farmlands including illegal farming in forest reserves are some of the activities he listed as threats to forest and water conservation.

Other activities include Illegal settlements within forest reserves, wildfires, Indiscriminate harvesting of trees by chainsaw operators and illegal loggers, free-range cattle ranching, preponderance of invasive plant species which colonize clearings and impede natural regeneration of native tree species.

The effects of these activities, Ameyaw said, included the incidence of reduced quantity of water in river systems and groundwater, especially during the dry season due to increased evaporation and reduction in forest cover.

“Ghana is known to be endowed with relative abundance of water resources. Nevertheless, water is an open access resource and therefore prone to an ultimate jeopardy if not managed properly.

“It is imperative therefore for the current generation to manage these water resources sustainably in order to ensure inter-generational equity,” he maintained.

Clearly, it is not only artisanal and illegal mining that poses great danger to Ghana’s water security, as large scale legal mining has over the years also been the main pollutant of water bodies in mining communities.

In 2011, Ghana’s total earnings from gold rose to 4,778,502,161 U.S Dollars from the 3,724,847,388 dollars in 2010. However, these huge earnings only earn the government a fraction in taxes and royalties compared with the huge negative environmental losses Ghana suffers as a result of mining.

The paltry earnings for Ghana from mining was made possible by the  PNDC law 153 which set mineral royalties at between 3.0 percent and 12 percent of the gross total mined, based on the operating ratio of mining companies.

However, in the Minerals and Mining Act, Act 703 (2006), royalties was set at six percent, which the huge international mining firms operating in the country say is not adequate.

A study by WACAM, a leading local Civil Society Organization advocating responsible mining in the country, conducted about three years ago in Obuasi and Tarkwa, two of Ghana’s biggest mining towns, found that about 250 river bodies had been polluted through mining activities.

These activities have been found to include cyanide spillage into streams and rivers which served as the only sources of drinking water for the communities where these mining firms operated.

A traditional ruler from Obuasi, Ghana’s foremost gold mining community, Reverend (Dr) Nana Owusu Akyaw Brempong, told Xinhua in an interview last month that 71 water bodies around Obuasi alone had been polluted and some destroyed completely by the mining firm operating in the community.

He expressed grave concern about the worsening potable water situation in these mining communities where the mining companies operate but refuse to provide alternative sources of water for them.

The effects of water pollution both for domestic and agricultural use was identified as one of the major flash points of conflict in mining communities across the country, according to Messan Mawugbe,  Executive Director of the Center for Africa Elections Media Monitoring Index (CAEMMI).

CAEMMI has been conducting field research in conjunction with the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) into conflict flash points in mining communities across the country.

The country is currently facing water shortage, especially in the urban areas, where pipe-borne water is the main source of potable water for the people.

International Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) WaterAid says 80 per cent of all diseases in Ghana are caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation, with over 9.0 million people lacking access to safe drinking water.

This is in spite of the fact that the country’s water coverage has hit 86 percent, well ahead of the Millennium Development Goal due date of 2015 when water coverage is expected to reach at least 78 percent.

The UN and the World Health Organization (WHO) report that 1.1 billion people around the globe lack access to clean drinking water. The UN attributes 2.2 million deaths annually to poor water and sanitation.

It is therefore an urgent duty for government of Ghana to not only find solutions to the aforementioned challenges in water resources management, but also look at the appropriate climate change adaptation and mitigation procedures to secure its water bodies.

Kwakye Ameyaw believes it would be necessary to institute laws that create reasonably large riparian buffers (100 meters on either sides) along important rivers in Ghana.

He also recommended the introduction of incentives that encourage land owners within critical watersheds to conserve forests on their lands or practise agro-forestry systems.

“It may also be necessary to accord forest reserves that serve as headwaters or critical watersheds higher protection status to ensure better protection of these watersheds,” he added.

These measures, he noted, would strengthen efforts to mitigate the looming danger of water resource crisis in the country.

With President John Dramani Mahama hinting here on Friday World Water Day ) of drastic actions in the water sector, including replacing  non-performing managers, to make the systems run as happens in other parts of the world, stakeholders believe such drastic measures were also needed to secure the country’s critical water resources.Enditem.

 

Source:  Justice Lee Adoboe

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