While the country is battling with the menace of illegal mining, government has yet again issued a public health alert about the consequences of this illegal activity – not only to the environment at large, but also to the health of humans.
A terse circular signed by the Minister of Information, Mustapha Hamid, warned of the dire consequences from artisanal and small-scale mining – saying how it exposes mining communities to potentially dangerous levels of toxic metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and other dangerous metals.
This is no laughing matter, as mercury pollution has been observed in Tarkwa, Obuasi, Talensi and Nabdam mining communities in both the Eastern and Upper East Regions respectively. CSIR research has evaluated concentrations of metals in drinking water to levels exceeding the World Health Organisation (WHO) limits.
These result in afflictions like birth-defects and is also attributed to the growing levels of cancer detected in and around mining communities. Therefore, it is in the interest of all to ensure that such crude methods of gold recovery are banished and forbidden.
It stands to reason that the fight against illegal mining activities is equally to protect human health as well as preserving the environment. It is well and good that government has released a statement indicating the health hazards associated with small-scale and illegal mining.
However, our concern is that those engaged in the act are not really interested in the health problems associated with illegal mining but rather interested in winning gold and making a fortune. Therefore, whatever statement is released by the Ministry of Information will be secondary to them. Once they can win gold they will have solved their financial problems, period!
Thus, to win over these illegal miners a lot of education needs to be done with vivid examples of the consequences from employing toxic metals to aid in the extraction of gold shown them, so that they may have a change of mind.
We say this with the view that learned or literate persons, upon reading the statement, will grasp the full extent of the damage these chemicals cause to human health. But, on the other hand, an impoverished, semi-literate illegal miner would consider making money a priority, and therefore not be moved to stop whatever activity s/he is engaged in.
Therefore, the public education aspect of the campaign must be sustained by all opinion leaders, health officials and chiefs – including political appointees.