Vast swathes of forest reserves and farms, as well as some rivers in the Western and Eastern regions, have been destroyed by the activities of illegal miners.
Deep in the heart of the two regions, where accessibility to the thick forests is virtually impossible, illegal miners have managed to penetrate with huge machines to cause destruction of unimaginable proportions.
Last Tuesday, the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr. Samuel Abu Jinapor, high-ranking officials from the Operation Halt Team, as well as the media, embarked on an aerial tour of the areas devastated by illegal mining, popularly known as galamsey, and it was a sorry sight to behold.
As the Ghana Air Force MI-17 helicopter that carried reporters and other officials on the tour flew over the vast areas, there was nothing but scenes of sprawling land and water bodies that had been pounded by illegal mining.
From the helicopter, the scenes of destruction and degradation were visible for miles.
Many in the aircraft could not help but shake their heads in utter disbelief.
Although mineral wealth constitutes a valuable asset that can propel national growth and spur development in the mining communities, the havoc that the Daily Graphic witnessed from the air showed that the mining communities and the nation had rather become poorer.
The illegal activities have left chains of uncovered abandoned pits filled with muddy water in several areas, posing grave danger to residents of those areas.
Among the minister’s team was the National Security Coordinator, Major General Francis Adu Amanfo, and the Commander of the Operation Halt Team, Brigadier-General Amoah Ayisi.
The tour was meant to inspect the level of devastation perpetrated by the galamsey operators.
The team toured around the Oda, Offin, Birim and Pra rivers.
With the aircraft hovering over the rivers, the Daily Graphic saw muddy water, signifying pollution.
However, it was later realised that there had been some improvement in the quality of water.
Abandoned pits and mining settlements dotted the sites.
As part of the tour, the team made a quick stop at Anyinam in the Eastern Region and Daboase in the Western Region to engage with the chiefs and community members.
Mr. Jinapor, who was visibly shocked by what he had seen, described the scenes as “tragic and heartbreaking”.
He held the conviction that if the government did not swiftly intervene, illegal mining would result in the destruction of all the country’s forest reserves and water bodies.
He gave an assurance that the government was not going not relent in its effort to clamp down on the activities of illegal miners.
In waging that crusade, he said, the government would use concerted efforts and resolutions to ensure its sustainability.
Already, he said, it had engaged in a stakeholder consultation with some operators and cautioned them to cease their activities around rivers and forest reserves.
“We are genuinely embarking on this effort and the government’s resolve is unflinching and honest. This means whatever measures we are putting in place will have no regard for political affiliation and status in society,” the minister said.
“There will be no discrimination, and if the law catches up with anybody, whether a party big-wig or a government official, the full rigours of the law will be made to apply. We are going to do this for the future of our country,” he added.
Touching on the burning of excavators by the Operation Halt Team, the minister said persuasion had failed and it was about time force was applied.
“We are demobilising the excavators and making them incapable of functioning, so that they cannot be used for the illegality that they are involved in. This is because extraordinary times require extraordinary measures and we have to put in enhanced measures to protect all the areas which have been declared ‘red zones’,” he said.
For his part, the Chief of Daboase, Nana Ekow Piabo IV, commended the government for coming up with such an intervention to address the issue of illegal mining in the area.
He said the activities of the miners had rendered the Pra River, which used to be the town’s major source of drinking water, no longer safe for consumption.
Personally, he said, he had tried every effort to halt those activities, including legal action, but all had proved futile.
“We, therefore, plead with the government to ensure that this does not become a nine-days’ wonder. Several attempts have been made to get rid of this matter, but to no avail. I hope that this time around, something positive will come out of it,” Nana Piabo added.