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Ghana: Cancer in mining community

Summary & Comment: Results of testing the drinking water used by residents of Tarkwa-Nsuaem municipality in Ghana "predict a lot of cancer in the future." The source of the water is polluted by mining, and at the peril of the common citizens, the elite of the municipality do not want the mining to withdraw or to pay for safe, potable water despite the huge revenues accruing to it from the mine. JMPA

Author: Editorial, Accra Date Written: 24 July 2009
Primary Category: Western Region Document Origin: Public Agenda
Secondary Category: Health and AIDS Source URL: http://www.ghanaweb.com/public_agenda/
Key Words: Ghana, health, resource extraction, corruption

African Charter Article #16: Every individual shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health. (Click for full text...)

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Cancer looms in mining community ....due to discovery of pollutants in tap water


The Tarkwa-Nsuaem Municipal Assembly in the Western Region, appears to have signed the death warrant of residents as its officials pray against an end to mining in view of huge revenues accruing to it from the sector. This is despite their acceptance of the results of a test on their drinking water, which revealed the presence of pollutants in the sources of drinking water in the community traceable to mining. The test, carried out by one Prof. Yankson of the Department of Geography, University of Ghana, "predicts a lot of cancer in the future," according to Nana Kwantwi, Municipal Planning Officer (MPO).

Ironically, Mr. Michael Sandow Ali, the Environmental Protection Agency Officer for the area, disputed the MPO's statement and defended mining companies. According to him, the Ghana Water Company had done a lot of tests on the Bonsa River, which is the main source for treated water. "This is the first time I am hearing this," he said, pointing out, "Mining companies will not intentionally discharge pollutants into water bodies."

These statements were made on Saturday July 18, 2009 when participants of the first annual summer school on the 'Governance of Oil, Mining and Gas Revenues' called on officials of the assembly as part of their tour of mining sites and communities. The exact pollutants are not yet known since the report has not been cited. Mindful of this, Dr. Thomas Akabzaa, a facilitator of the summer school who has also done extensive work on the water quality in the Tarkwa area in the past, said pollutants could cause several kinds of aliments. For instance, iron can cause blood clotting. In the case of cancer, there are about ten pollutants, one of which could be manganese.

On behalf of Mrs Christina Kobinah, the Municipal Chief Executive, Mr Robert Mensah, Presiding Member, said in a statement that the assembly "derives considerable revenue from the mines." The touring participants were told that in 2008 mining revenue amounted to almost GHc 1.420 million (37%) of total revenue. The Tarkwa-Nsuaem Municipal assembly has just three sources for generating funds internally - business operating licences fees, property rates, and the mineral development fund. Mr. Albert A. Anderson, Municipal Finance Officer (MFO) contested that the assembly would face difficulties "without mining companies," and added, stopping mining would be a big blow to the assembly. "We hope they won't withdraw."

Stark poverty stares the area in the face despite the mining revenue. The assembly spends a chunk of its revenue on recurrent expenditure with about 20% of the recurrent expenditure going into waste collection. Very little is therefore available for capital expenditure like putting up schools, and improving the socio-economic status of the people. Mining has posed severe effects like environmental degradation, occasional pollution of water, socio-economic issues like relocation and resettlement of people, diseases like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS. Ancillary activities like illegal mining and constant blasting have come with the activity.

Earlier in the day at the Goldfields Ghana Limited Tarkwa Gold Mine, Mr. Yaw Britwum Opoku, Community Affairs Superintendent, told the touring participants that the company, as a favour, spent about $1.5 million annually on community development because the government failed to develop the communities. He mentioned that the company has initiatives on education, health, agriculture, water and sanitation, and alternative livelihood. He showed pictures of assembly officials and chiefs attending the company's project launches.

Juxtaposing this with what the assembly officials said, some of the participants expressed dissatisfaction. For Mr Kwadwo Kyei, a Ghanaian participant, the situation at Tarkwa-Nsuaem was one of a role reversal. "The mining companies are supposed to fit into the Assembly's development plan. It shouldn't be the other way round." Mrs Angela Mugore, Programme Officer, Training and Capacity Building of RWI, shared Mr. Kyei's view. She said, "It's like they (assembly) have delegated their responsibility to the company and so were unable to impose sanctions." The Programme Officer added, "It seems to me the local government has not gotten its acts together." She implied from their responses that they lacked a policy to define the role of mining. "It was almost like the situation was beyond them."

The image formed by Ms Cecilia Christiana Mattia of Sierra Leone was that the assembly was allowing the companies to use it for public relations. She reminded the assembly, "You have a mandate to take on the companies." The view of Mr Eric Osae-Oduro of the Institute of Local Government Studies, Ghana, was that "They have sacrificed the health of the people for money." He pointed out that local governments are supposed to represent the people. Key among their roles is to ensure safe water and clean environment. In addition, they are supposed to ensure that whatever the mining companies do is in the interest of the people. In contrast, it was clear that most of the officials were acting as public relations officers for the companies.

Awulae Annor Adjaye, Paramount Chief of Jomoro Traditional Area and a Ghanaian participant decried the assembly's inaction in the name of revenue. For him, the crux of the matter is, "This is unfair deal." Rt. Rev. Dr. Stephen Munga, a participant from Tanzania, said the ultimate goal of any government is to protect its citizens and their properties. "If a government can't protect the people, then it cannot be called a government." He urged the government to take urgent steps to address the issue. He suspected that the local authority's inability to regulate mining could be hinged on clauses in the mining lease. Thus, it would be prudent for civil society activists to demand for contract transparency.

Mr. Patrick Heller, a facilitator and Legal Analyst of RWI, pointed out, "It's important for people at all levels of government, including local governments, to assess not just the financial benefits or costs but also the social benefits or costs of mining." In his view, the ideal situation is to limit the social cost of mining and think about increasing the social benefits including developing the capacities of the people and putting the environment back in shape.

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.

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