Title: The Glittering Facade
Effects of Mining Activities on Obuasi and Its Surrounding
Authors: Akabzaa T. M.; Seyire J. S. and Afriyie K.
Published by: Third World Network Africa (TWN Africa)
Reviewed by: Caroline Boateng
THE Glittering Facade, from the onset draws the reader into a critical consideration of the real economic and social benefits of mining in the country.
The title is suggestive of the farce of the assumed contribution of mining to national development, and can also pass as an apt clarion call on all to consider actions collectively and individually that degrade the country’s environment.
The book, borne out of years of detailed studies commissioned by Third World Network Africa (TWN Africa) on the environmental impact of gold mining in Obuasi in the Adansi West District of the Ashanti Region, is replete with issues that indict individual, corporate and governmental actions and inaction that destroy the very environment that sustains lives. Obuasi lies wholly within the concession of the Ashanti Goldfields Limited (now AngloGold Ashanti), and for more than 100 years, mining has been dominant.
The Glittering Facade is a follow up to a previous publication, “Boom and Dislocation”, that significantly contributed to changing public perception on the impact of the country’s gold mining industry on the people living in communities affected by mining.
The book goes a step further in scientifically analysing the environment, disease prevalence in some mining areas, as well as the socio-economic impact of mining on the lives of people living in Obuasi.
Akabzaa T. M., Seyire J. S. And Afriyie K., the authors, in assessing the level of environmental pollution and possible health implications, sampled water, fruits and sediments.
The scientific study was then integrated with socio-economic and health surveillance surveys to assess the impact of mining on the communities.
Research methods used in the study were interdisciplinary, including both scientific analyses and social science research methods and covered the period from 2003 to 2005, although research analyses of some data covered 1989 to 2003.
The book is authoritative, in that it thoroughly covers all perspectives in the mining sector, as respondents of the surveys, focus group discussions and interviews were drawn from a wide cross-section of governmental, non- governmental, civil society organisations (CSOs) and other key partners in mining.
The authors note the refusal of a major key partner, Ashanti Goldfields Limited, to participate in the research. The book juxtaposes arguments for and against mining activities in the country for readers to decide on appropriate actions.
Arguments in support of the activity include the sector’s contribution to merchandise export, gross national foreign exchange earnings, gross domestic product (GDP), employment and government revenue.
Counter arguments point to the levels of mineral exports retained in off-shore accounts, the enclave nature of the industry and the generous capital allowances in the country’s Minerals and Mining Law that account in part for the minimal impact of the sector on the national economy.
Also the distinct disjoint of the sector to the rest of the economy, shown by a GDP contribution of 2 to 5 per cent since independence is another of the counter arguments.
Provocatively, an underlying thought that nags readers is whether the immediate economic and financial gains of the sector, the result of policies that gives greater incentives to investors, make up for the long term and sometimes irreversible depletion of the environment, livelihoods and human life.
The tacit condoning of international financing agencies with money and clout, government, corporate executives and individuals, can be inferred on reading the chapter on the history of Ashanti Goldfields Limited.
The authors in their quest to assess the impact of mining come out with results that show abnormally high concentrations of heavy metals in areas studied. Water samples were acidic and fell outside Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and World Health Organisation (WHO) standards for drinking water.
Arsenic and manganese concentrations were also observed with the concentration of manganese in some villages exceeding the permitted EPA guidelines.
Analyses of health surveillance data at the Obuasi Government Hospital of sixteen communities, integrated with water, sediment and fruit surveys and community perceptions of the causes of common ailments showed that malaria, diarrhoea, skin diseases, acute respiratory infections (ARI) and acute eye infections were the most prevalent diseases annually.
These also had unmistakable linkages with the types of mining activities being undertaken near the surveyed towns, with peak records of these diseases at the peak period of mining activity.
The authors point out that “most diseases recorded annual peak values from 1997 to 2001 when surface mining was at its peak”. The authors take each community by turn and assess the type of mining activity and type of disease prevalence.
For instance, Kwabrafoso, which is at the heart of a number of processing facilities and waste dumps, saw increased out – patient department (OPD) reported cases of malaria, diarrhoea ARI and skin disease, between 1994 and 2002.
Sansu, with a concentration of surface mine pits, ore crushing and mining facilities and Sulphide Treatment Plants (STP) with considerable dust and stream pollution, also saw the incidence of diseases, such as ARI, diarrhoea, skin disease and eye infection in addition to malaria from 1994 to 2002, peaking between 1998 and 2002.
The Glittering Facade critically looks at the methods of mining and describes surface mining as “a new generation of mines which have been operational only in the last fifteen years” but which has “generated far more waste and consumed far more land space than the over one hundred years of underground mining.”
The legacies of this form of mining have included huge abandoned craters or open pits, filled with pools of water, tailing damps and cyanide containment lakes that are hazardous to people in the communities.The high environmental and social costs of land and vegetation destruction, loss of lands, livelihoods, health and displacements and resultant conflict that come up are thoroughly discussed.
The book is easy -to- read, even though it is a publication from scientific research findings. The book convinces that the economic and financial gains made in the mining sector as a result of policies that give great incentives to investors, cannot make up for the depletion of the environment, livelihoods and human life.
With scientific analyses being undertaken with sterling governmental agencies like the Water Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and health surveillance data from the Obuasi Government Hospital in the socio-economic survey, The Glittering Facade cannot be taken for granted.
Akabzaa T. M., Seyire J. S. and Afriyie K., conclude that in the long run, in comparative terms, mining does not significantly impact positively on host communities. The attendant social and economic cost become fatal on host communities particularly when policies, fashioned with the clout of international finance and influence, does not in a complementary manner ensure the interest of the host communities.
“With regard to infrastructural facilities and development, the mining towns of Obuasi, Tarkwa, Prestea, Konongo, among others, provide a classic picture of the typical mining towns in Ghana. These towns are far from affluent, an aberration of what communities endowed with mineral resources, are or should look like. The towns are very much unlike other gold mining towns such as Johannesburg in South Africa, Noranda City in Ontario, Canada, Reno in the USA or Perth in Australia, where the scars of mining are sealed by the beauty and riches of these cities, built out of mining”, is a provoking quote from the book that buttresses this point.
The authors recommend, among other things, the concerted effort of AGC, district assemblies and other partners in addressing challenges of environmental degradation and the re-examination of policies to a balance of the interest of host communities and mining companies.
The book makes for compelling reading, particularly for proponents of the indisputable benefits of mining to the national economy, as it could help them either confirm their notions by discounting the evidence in the book or help them to critically review actions and policies for a balance of interest in the sector that will make mining, a glittering, livelihood enhancing and socio-economically viable venture for all partners.
It is an invaluable policy document for governments, a sort of mining charter for all partners and a wealth of information. It is available at the Legon Bookshop and all leading bookshops in the country.
*you can download the full book by visiting http://publications.twnafrica.org/Glittering_Facade.pdf