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MEI Online: Environmental Issues: Latest News: May 29th 2003

:: Environmentalists Angry Over Ghana Cyanide Spillages  

A fourth cyanide spillage in seven years in the West African country of Ghana is giving environmentalists an extra pitch in their cry for authorities to take measures to check widespread mining activities and also demand proper environmental practices.

In a country once named the Gold Coast in the colonial era because of its treasures of the glittering mineral, the current activities of individuals and mining companies have not amused environmentalists. Activists have accused successive governments of taking a blind eye to dangerous practices that endanger human beings, plants, animals and pollute bodies of water.

"These activities have continued because none of the mining companies that have caused cyanide spillage has been sanctioned," said George Awudi, Programme Coordinator of Friends of the Earth, Ghana.

The latest spillage occurred at Tarkwa in the western region in at Gold Fields (Ghana), when the dangerous chemical spilled from one of three newly constructed pipelines. The general manager of Gold Fields, Johan Botha, described the spillage as "a mistake".

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the state body that supervises the environment has said its initial investigation shows the natural resources were not severely impacted from the spillage. "Initial emergency measures were taken by Gold Fields Ghana at Tarkwa immediately when the spillage occurred, containing it within their environment," the Ghana News Agency quoted Daniel Amlalo as saying.

But the environmentalists would not accept the official explanations and warned there could be more danger as previous cyanide spillage had polluted drinking water, fish and bodies of water. They say individuals engaged in illegal mining of gold and diamonds and registered mining companies are guilty of environmental pollution and the victims are peasant farmers whose livelihood depends on the environment.

Awudi recommends that the licenses of mining companies carrying out surface mining should be suspended until they produce satisfactory measures and programmes to avert spillage and other adverse environmental activities. He said the government should come out with guidelines for surface mining or update the laws on environmental protection to serve as a check on mining companies. "Not much is being done to protect the environment," Awudi said.

On a wider scale, the non-governmental organisation Civil Society Against Mining in Forest Reserved Areas, is crying out against the government's decision to open up reserved forests to mining investors, saying their licences should be revoked. The NGO, including the Third World Network, Friends of the Earth, League of Environmental Journalists and local associations, warned that it would use "every available legal means" to oppose such deals as they contradict the policy on natural resource conservation.

Awudi, a spokesperson for the 13 NGOs in the Civil Society Against Mining in Forest Reserved Areas, said at present, there are five big mining companies waiting to be granted concession into forest reserves. "The decision does not only undermine the significant role forest reserves play in the economic, environmental and social development of the people living in the mining communities, but also contradicts the government's own policy on natural resource conservation," he said. The companies include some of the biggest mining companies in the world -Newmont, Satellite Goldfields, Chirano Goldmines, Nevsun-AGC and Birim-AGC.

The forest reserves are rich in gold, bauxite and iron ore. "If the forest reserves are being considered for mining, then Ghanaians are being confronted with serious livelihood and environmental consequences," Awudi warned.



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