Ghana is on the edge of a precipice. The country faces an uphill task of saving its water bodies and forest reserves from the havoc wreaked on same by illegal mining. The technological shift, from the use of simple tools like pans for alluvial mining to the mounting of chanfans on river bodies, has occasioned a rate of destruction of flora and fauna which far exceeds the rate of success of past and present anti-illegal mining interventions.
According to the Water Resource Commission, illegal mining activities have resulted in the pollution of 60% of all water bodies in Ghana. Projections based on current trends also point to acute water shortage in the foreseeable future which will compel the country to import water by 2030. These statistics are grim. They simultaneously paint a bleak picture of the future for generations yet unborn and signal a real existential threat to citizens of today.
Never has the urgency to act and act decisively become critical for the collective survival of Ghanaians than now. The reasons for the failure of past interventions such as Operation Vanguard and Galamstop are well-known. Revisiting them would only amount to the conduct of a banal exercise.
In February this year, the government launched another intervention dubbed Operation Halt. Although it bears semblance with past anti-illegal mining operations given its reliance on the use of the military, it has shown prospects of success due to the application of what some consider to be draconian measures which include the burning of mining equipment on site.
So far, over 2,500 mining equipment have been destroyed. The glimmer of hope that Operation Halt has guaranteed in recent months calls for even more drastic measures to be implemented because the supposed draconian measures implemented to salvage the situation cannot be compared to the severity of the destruction of the environment by illegal mining activities.
Suffice it to say, however, that despite the successes accrued thus far, Operation Halt, in its current form, is limited in the extent it can go to ensure a total eradication of the illegal mining menace. The operation is designed to factor in the infeasible reality of permanently deploying military personnel to guard all river bodies in the country thus, questioning the sustainability of same in the long run.
The solution to this problem neither lies in the conduct of periodic and irregular reconnaissance in areas where operations have already taken place nor the use of a less draconian approach. The solution rather lies in regular monitoring of the mining areas coupled with the institution of other stiffer punitive measures to deter illegal miners from resuming mining on river bodies. Perhaps the time is right for the implementation of other measures which include but not limited to the ban on the importation or manufacture of chanfan machines. Failure to adhere to such measures should attract severe punishment either in the form of a hefty fine or a jail term.
It is also important to emphasize that the government’s attempt to salvage our waterbodies and forest reserves can only be successful on the back of considerable moral support from the citizenry. From a realist perspective, all governments are rational actors. A policy, however good it is, may not see the light of day should a government feel its implementation could portend adverse electoral implications.
But Ghana, now more than ever, needs a bold government that can take the bull by the horn and implement the needed drastic measures to tackle the drastic problem of illegal mining which is currently destroying our waterbodies. Indeed, on the basis of the nature of the political business cycle, now is the time to act even against the will of a section of the people whose livelihoods may be affected while hoping that the dividends of those measures will be huge enough to warrant a political pardon from affected citizens. Any other approach would be catastrophic for the country.