Fighting ‘Galamsey’ and River Pollution in Ghana

By Bervelyn Longdon


One phenomenon that has received a lot of attention and discussion on media and other platforms is illegal small-scale mining popularly referred to as ‘galamsey’. The subject matter has been discussed widely in view of the immediate and long-term effects on the environment, agriculture, habitat and livelihoods as a whole. The concern has been that if these illegal mining activities are allowed to persist, it will have dire consequences for the sustenance of livelihoods in the communities affected by these illegal mining activities.


Though ‘galamsey’ affects many facets of life, one area in which its impact is being felt most is the pollution of rivers and water bodies.  The extent to which rivers have been polluted exerts significant pressure on individuals who live near and depend on river bodies as source of drinking water and livelihood. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, a river is a wide flow of fresh water across the land into the sea, a lake or another river. Pollution on the other hand is damage caused to water, air, and humans by harmful substances or waste. Thus, river pollution can be said to be the act of adulterating river bodies with harmful substances such as industrial waste, oil and grease, washing at the banks of rivers, amongst others.                                                                                                                                                                                   


‘Galamsey’ does not only pollute rivers and other water bodies but also leaves death traps for miners themselves and other individuals. There were reports in 2015 that showed that ‘galamsey’ operations in the East Akyem District were polluting the Birim, Densu and Ayensu rivers which served as sources of water for communities in those catchment areas. In spite of the negative effects of illegal mining on rivers and other water bodies, many communities in the rural areas, due to lack of alternative sources of water, tend to use the same polluted rivers without any fear. They drink, cook, bath and perform all tasks with the polluted water in spite of the risk of contracting diseases such as cholera, dysentery, fever, amongst others.


The pollution of rivers also has significant effects on the activities of the Ghana Water Company in its mandate to provide safe drinking water to Ghanaians. For instance, a few years ago the Ghana Water Company shut down a water treatment plant due to the fact that chemicals used for treating polluted water had become expensive. The company also had to shut down its water treatment plant at Kyebi for one-and-half years due to the pollution of the Birim River.


There have been statements by representatives of government, NGOs, environmentalists and traditional authorities on the dangers that the ‘galamsey’ menace poses to the sustainability of livelihoods for communities affected by these illegal mining activities and the nation as a whole. In 2014, the Project Officer for Friends of the Nation, an NGO, Mr. Solomon Kusi Ampofo, appealed to communities living along the Bonsa River in the Tarkwa Nsueam Municipality in the Western Region to fight against illegal mining operations in the Bonsa River. In April this year, a Deputy Chief of Staff, Mr. Jonny Osei Kofi also called for stakeholder efforts to end illegal mining which has had an adverse effect on potable water supply in the country.


The worrying issue is that statements on the adverse effects of illegal mining have not yielded the results we expect as the ‘galamsey’ menace continues to plague many communities. The time has come for more decisive action to be taken by all to confront the ‘galamsey’ issue head-on. This is particularly important if the country is to achieve some of the goals outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which replaced the MDGs in September 2015. The SDG framework outlines 17 goals which the UN hopes nations of the world can achieve by 2030. For instance, goals 6, 11 and 13 focus on clean water and sanitation, sustainable cities and communities, and climate action respectively but how can these goals be achieved by 2030 if the wanton destruction of the environment is allowed to continue through the activities of ‘galamsey’ operators?


The recent report carried by the October 20 edition of the Ghanaian Times newspaper in which ‘galamsey’ operators in Obuasi went on rampage destroying offices, posters, banners and billboards of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) is cause for concern. The report indicated that the illegal miners chanted “no galamsey, no votes”. If this is not the height of impunity, then I do not know what else is.      


The time has come for government, civil society, NGOs, traditional authorities and well-meaning Ghanaians to move away from the rhetoric and take more decisive action to stem the ‘galamsey’ menace which threaten our survival and our ability as a nation to achieve the goals outlined in the SDG framework by 2030. The fight against ‘galamsey’ is a fight for survival. 


The writer is a Level 200 Journalism Student, GIJ and The MasterCard Foundation Scholar at Camfed Ghana