Gold or Clean Drinking Water?

Water is life! This is scientifically proven and hence not a mere saying. It turns out that in Ghana, the availability of water has been taken for granted. We have rains most part of the year, there are lots of river bodies and wherever we dig, we find water. We therefore seem to say by our actions and attitude, that water will remain available to us forever.

We have resorted to activities that is destroying everything water. The sooner we come to the realization that, we could in the future import drinking water and hence pay so much for it that, many cannot afford, the better for us. This will at least give us a rude awakening that, we need to do things right.

Water

Water (chemical formula: H2O) is a transparent fluid which forms the world’s streams, lakes, oceans and rain, and is the major constituent of the fluids of organisms. Safe drinking water is essential to humans and other lifeforms even though it provides no calories or organic nutrients. Access to safe drinking water has improved over the last decades in almost every part of the world, but approximately one billion people still lack access to safe water.

According to the WHO, unsafe water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene are significant contributors to the 1.8 million deaths caused by diarrhoea every year. For children under five years of age, this burden is greater than that covered by HIV and malaria combined. We use water for almost everything we do; drinking, cooking, washing, bathing and the fact that our irrigation projects for large scale farming depend on the availability of water.
There are several activities that can be implicated in the pollution of our waterbodies but what I’m most passionate about in recent times is pollution of our waterbodies through the activities of illegal and small scale mining.

The effect of illegal mining and irresponsible small scale mining

Today, Ghana is at the brink of losing 3 major river bodies of great importance to us. The three are, river Densu, river Ankobra and river Pra. For those who are much older, you may have seen or experienced the freshness of these waterbodies in the not too distant past.

We cannot say so today. For those who cannot appreciate the comparison I’m making, google these water bodies and the before-and-after pictures would startle you. Many of us cross these rivers when we travel and it is a sad scene.
The once fresh Pra river has perpetually turned brown and heavily silted. In addition to this, chemicals from illegal mining has become a permanent composition of this river and others mentioned above. Some citizens of this country have been seen on countless occasions on TV drinking and cooking with water from these rivers. Some of them can genuinely not afford to buy bags of sachet water, whilst others for fear of diseases spend the little money they make to buy bags of sachet water for drinking.

Everyone in this country is aware of this threat to our nation. Politicians, elder statesmen, the clergy, academicians, the so-called elite of our society etc. Why is everyone quiet about this? There are so many ministries that could deal with this situation and bring it to closure; Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. Is gold more important than water? Put the strength of all the businesses that use water in their production against what the nation gains from such mining operations and you’ll realize we are better off without gold especially when the effect of mining is killing the ordinary citizen.

What is the wisdom in losing our waterbodies and importing water for the citizenry? In recent times we’ve experienced acute water shortages across the country. Every single person in this country felt the impact. A lot more people depend on bags of sachet water including those living in villages who can afford to travel long distances to nearby towns and cities to buy. When we’ve lost our water bodies, the Ghana water company will not have enough water as raw material to process.

It is an eyesore to see illegal miners and some small scale miners placing their equipment in the middle of rivers and polluting the water that we all need for industrial and domestic use. They do this with impudence and somewhat oblivious of the consequences now and in the near future.

There may be several enlightened people behind these illegal mining operations. Although they’re aware of the consequences of these actions, greed and self-centeredness drives them more than statesmanship.

Effects of galamsey-related pollution

The activities of illegal mining and small scale mining are two-fold. The extraction of gold is done by employing chemicals that are dangerous to human health. These chemicals are released into the water body in the process and cause chemical pollution. Various degrees of cancer may result from drinking such contaminated water.

Moreover, the activities leave the waterbodies with huge amounts of silt making the water unwholesome to drink. Many people living along these rivers have to let the water stand for hours for the silt to settle before they can use the clear portion to cook or even wash their clothes.

Open defaecation by the teaming miners introduces microbiological contamination and hence diseases such as cholera and dysentery are prevalent. Large tracts of land along these rivers with uncovered holes become the breeding grounds for mosquitoes increasing the cases of malaria.

The turbidity of the river adversely affects flora and fauna. The heavily polluted waterbody kills all manner of living things in the river. This includes all kinds of fishes and even weeds that these fishes feed on. Fishes that are able to survive downstream are heavily contaminated that, the health effects from eating them cannot be underestimated. Any waterbody that loses its fauna and flora from pollution, compounded by heavy silting dies.

You would also know that, there are several water treatment plants along our rivers to serve towns and cities with potable water. The cost of treating contaminated water is so expensive, the water company may not be able to treat the water and sell at affordable prices to us. Subsequently only the rich can afford water in quality and quantity.

Way forward

We must first admit that, we face a very serious situation which threatens the very existence of life in this country. Hence everything must be done by government and civil society to stop the threat that illegal mining and small scale mining bring in its trail.

The EPA has to first and foremost review and increase their monitoring of all small scale miners to ensure they are following the internationally approved methods of small scale mining, most importantly not polluting any waterbody. There should be a sustainable crackdown on illegal miners to prevent the extinction of our waterbodies. This might seem a hard pill to take but it does bring hopes of getting water on a continuous basis for us and the generations to come.

Some years back, government deployed the military to stop activities of these illegal miners, but the exercise, though effective was called off after a while. They should return to all the affected areas and stay there for months until there are no signs of such activities. The media should pick this issue up as a top national agenda and discuss it everyday until we see closure.
Finally, government should come up with a program to integrate these illegal miners into mainstream mining or into agriculture so as to help them sustain their families. It is our collective responsibility to save our waterbodies for today and the future. After all, no one has ever survived on gold, you can however not survive without water.

Johnson Opoku-Boateng is the Executive Director & Lead Consultant, QA CONSULT (Consultants and Trainers in Quality/Safety Management, Manufacturing Excellence and Food Safety) and can be reached on +233209996002, email: johnson@qaconsultgh.com.

BY: Johnson Opoku-Boateng

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