NEWS COMMENTARY ON THE DANGERS OF USING MERCURY IN ILLEGAL MINING AND THE NEED TO BRING THE PRACTICE UNDER CONTROL.
One major problem facing the country is the use of mercury in illegal mining, commonly known locally as “galamsey”. This practice is a disastrous threat to sectors such as agriculture, health, and the environment. Illegal mining and the use of mercury have not only destroyed the beautiful landscape of our forests and lands in various parts of the country but have also destroyed the waterbodies that we have in our various communities. For this reason, it is common knowledge that if nothing is done about the situation, our sources of drinking water would be destroyed, making that commodity a very scarce one and probably forcing us as a country to import water. At a time when efforts are being made to reduce imports so as to reduce the demand for foreign currencies and help the local currency, the cedi, appreciate, any importation of water would make life unbearable in the country.
The use of mercury is very dangerous in several respects, because mercury, when handled the way these miners use it, will bring about many health problems, including chest pains and difficulty in breathing among people. It is also likely to cause coughing and insomnia, that is a state of sleeplessness among people. The use of mercury in water bodies as a result of illegal mining can also cause headaches and general body weakness among the population. All these are likely to bring about weight loss, and as a result, the labour force in the country would be threatened and thereby rendered unproductive. Moreover, the use of this chemical can cause irritation to the eyes, skin, and stomach. As if these are not enough, the chemical can also lead to frequent deaths including lifelong disability. This means that the budget for the health sector would have to be drastically increased if the country had to address all these challenges arising from the reckless use of mercury.
If these avoidable diseases are brought under control, the nation would be able to save substantial sums of money for rapid socio-economic development, thereby bringing about a massive improvement in the quality of life in the country. In light of all these, there is the need to bring the situation under control. Bringing the situation under control to ensure a quality labour force is the responsibility of every individual and group in all parts of the country.
Fortunately, the government, through the Ministry of Lands and Forestry, is working hard to address this menace. Already, speedboats have been brought into the country to check the activities of illegal miners in various communities. The operations of the illegal miners can be brought to a stop, but this would need the cooperation of all groups in the country. Some of the chiefs are very much aware of the activities of these illegal miners but have turned a blind eye to these activities. Government alone cannot succeed unless all stakeholders contribute positively towards bringing the menace under control. There is also the need for effective monitoring of these illegal operations, which explains why steps have also been taken by the government to ensure aerial surveillance so that all those involved in the illegal activities can be identified and brought to book.
Education in this regard cannot be overlooked because the use of mercury in our waterbodies for purposes of illegal mining may bring in the needed gold deposits, but the miners may be ignorant of the dangers associated with the use of this chemical. At this point, some people have suggested that all those involved in this disgraceful act, when found out, should be named and shamed in order to discourage the practice. While this is true, we must know that merely naming and shaming will not be enough to put a stop to the menace. This is because those who make much money from the exercise of illegal mining should not only be named and shamed because they can hide their ill-gotten wealth and enjoy life with their friends and families.
A more effective way of addressing this menace is rigidly implementing the laws of the land regarding illegal small-scale mining. Every culprit found out must be made to face the law no matter what, so that the highest punishment ever can be meted out to them. If this is carried out rigidly without any fear or favour, all forms of illegal mining or “galamsey” will be brought under total control or eliminated from Ghanaian society. It must also be noted by all and sundry that wealth acquisition is good, but this must be done in a legal or legitimate way. The time has come for galamsey operations to be a thing of the past in order to save our rivers, forests, and the entire environment from destruction.
This is possible and achievable with the collaboration of all stakeholders, both rich and poor. So, let us work assiduously and honestly towards the achievement of this noble objective.
By Dr Kofi Amponsah-Bediako, a Dvelopment Communication Analyst.