Environmental implications of mining activities: the operations of mining firms in the Ashanti Region

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The environment s considered an integral part of development since any impact on man’s environment also influences his state of welfare. Environment and development are thus linked together so intricately that separate approaches to either environmental or development problems are piecemeal at best. The impacts of aggressive and altristic actions of individuals, households or enterprise are indicated as welfare effects on the environment. The complexity and magnitude of environmental problems give rise to enormous social costs which are beyond the internalization capabilities of individual households or enterprise. The activities of mining firms approached from the environmental point of view continue to present a delicate and complex issue which remains a bother to all stake holders and actors of development. The study initially conceptualises the environment to constitute all external conditions and influences affecting the life and development of organisms in a symbiotic relationship. Indicators such as the size of concession, numerical strength of labour force, quantity and level of sophistication of machinery and equipment are used to identify three scales of mining activities, These are big scale, medium scale and small scale mining firms. The preliminary stage of the study also incorporates the legal framework in which the sector operates. The policies of three important sectors whose activities impinge directly on the mining sector are also treated. These are the Environment, Science and Technology Mining and Forest Policies now existing in Ghana. An attempt is also made to trace the chronology of mining activities in the country, in order to focus reader’s attention on the genesis of commercial mining operations in the country. A summarised profile of Ashanti Region, the study area, is also touched upon, highlighting the bio-physical features, location and size, demographic characteristics and the nature of both the built and natural environment as unique features which has rendered the€ region a notable area for the concentration of mining activities. Quantitative and qualitative techniques are used in the data analysis, especially the Environmental Impact Assessment Techniques and Compatibility Matrix Analysis. The major findings are grouped under environmental, social economic and institutional issues. As regards environmental issue the study discovered that the clearing away of vast tracks of land for surface mining had transformed the traditional rainforest into a dust bowl, making re-afforestation difficult. Soils have also been devastated resulting in defoliation and low yields in food and cash crops. Water bodies which serve as drinking source are polluted by the mining firm’s especially big scale and medium scale firms. Even though the firms are making effort of providing alternative drinking water sources, it is below satisfaction in both quality and quantity. Again, of the three levels of operation S identified, big scale firms such as the Ashanti GoidfieldS Company Limited (AGO) generate more mine spoils which tends to destroy the vegetation. Medium scale mining firms is the most environmentally friendly among the three types. The efforts of big scale mining firms (e.g. AGC) in providing some social facilities for mining firms remain commendable, yet there is still prevalence of some diseases attributable to mining operations in these localities. Besides, the polarization of social services has served as a pull factor altracting people from the periphery into the big mining towns such as Obuasi. This adversely affects the economics of the satellite mining communities such as Akatakyieso, Amamom, Anyankyirem and Sansu Economically, mining operations in the study areas tend to cause loss of employment among the inhabitants, and their plights worsened by inadequate and prolonged period of payment of compensation. The weak institutional framework for the mining communities has not helped much, as these areas suffer immense deprivation in terms of infrastructural development which calls for a strong body to intervene and reverse such unhealthy trend. Another issue of concern is that the centralisation of granting licence by the Minerals Commission has not helped in environmental matters, under whose areas such activities take place to monitor mining firms. From the above findings, the study continues to offer recommendations regarding the critical examination of the current policy emphasis in the Mining, Forest and Environmental, Science and Technology sectors, and their implications at the macro level of Ghana’s economy is also considered. Other recommendations centre around the evolvement of policy framework to emphasise on the medium scale mining firm which is more environmentally friendly and the operationalization of decentralised approach in the utilisation of endogeneous resources to alleviate mining communities of their current deprivation and other predicaments.
A thesis submitted to the Board of Postgraduate Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the award of the Degree of Master of Science in National Development Policy and Planning, 1997