President Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has been advised to reconsider his decision of giving out the Atewa Range Forest Reserve in the Eastern Region to the Chinese for mining.
The Atewa Forest is a globally important ecosystem that harbours extraordinary wildlife and provides water for five million people.
American Bird Conversancy, GUYRA Paraguay, Synchronicity Earth, WWF and SRK Consulting, all international environmental conservationist organisations, said government's plan to mine bauxite in the Atewa Forest will result in long-term disadvantages for the country.
The organisations indicated that though the country would make some profit from mining bauxite, Atewa Forest is an important water source for most of the river bodies in the country.
Expressing these views in a press release, the organisations maintain that Ghana will sacrifice its irreplaceable forest and water sources for over five million people if the mining activities begin.
American Bird Conversancy, GUYRA Paraguay, Synchronicity Earth, WWF and SRK Consulting observe in the statement that despite vehement opposition from local and international conservation organisations, the Ghanaian government seems determined to proceed with a destructive bauxite mine in the Atewa Forest.
The statement further noted that the recent decision by the government to send bulldozers to start clearing access roads shows that the authorities have decided to plough ahead with the controversial project.
Designated as a Forest Reserve in 1926, Atewa forest is also a critical water source, housing the headwaters of the Birim, Densu and Ayensu rivers, which provide water to local communities as well as millions of people downstream, including the capital city of Ghana, Accra.
Unlike Ghana’s existing bauxite mine at Awaso, which locals describe as a “desert of red mud,” Atewa Forest is teeming with life, home to at least 50 mammal species, more than 1,000 species of plants and at least 230 species of birds and more than 570 butterflies – some of which are found nowhere else in the world.
Experts have said mining Atewa Forest for bauxite, the main ingredient in aluminium, would push a number of species even closer to extinction, including the endangered white-naped mangabey, the critically endangered Togo Slippery Frog, and the Afia Birago Puddle Frog, which was only discovered in 2017.
The organisations with over 15 million supporters worldwide urged the government to abandon plans to mine the forest and instead declare it a National Park.
“Despite the government’s assertions, bauxite mining would forever destroy the Atewa forest, leaving extinct species and dried up water sources in it," the statement appealed.
The statement indicated that over 20,000 people have already signed a petition calling on the government to declare Atewa Forest a National Park.
“It is still not too late for the government to stop this disastrous mine in its tracks and instead champion Ghana’s incredibly rich natural heritage and the interests of the five million Ghanaians who depend on Atewa Forest for their water,” the statement from the international organisations added.
The government’s decision to start tearing down the forest comes just a month after a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which also highlighted the threat posed to humanity by the rapid loss of biodiversity and called for urgent global action to reverse the trend.
A recent Global Forest Watch report also estimated that there had been a 60% increase in Ghana’s tropical primary rainforest loss in 2018 compared to 2017, the highest in the world.
“The recent UN biodiversity report was crystal clear: protect wildlife or all life on Earth will suffer, including humans,” said Russ Mittermeier, GWC’s Chief Conservation Officer and chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group.
“The government of Ghana has a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate that it is committed to preserving the country’s natural life support system and ecosystems that are critical for the health of the global environment by preventing mining in the Atewa Forest and instead designating it a national park.”
In 2016, A Rocha and partners published a report that showed that protecting Atewa Forest as a national park with a well-managed buffer zone around it – rather than mining it for bauxite has the highest economic value for the country over 25 years, with tremendous benefits to communities both upstream and down.
A recent US government report concluded that “given the scale, duration, and potential significant and permanent impact of Ghana’s Integrated Bauxite Plan on the Atewa Forest Reserve and water supply of over 5 million people, it is critical to evaluate a range of development and management options (including … alternatives to mining) to protect drinking water and other ecosystem services.”
Funds from the bauxite mine will be used to repay the Chinese company, Sinohydro, for infrastructure projects in Ghana.
SRK Consulting, a global company with offices in Europe and the US, has been contracted to develop the mine plan, with initial reports due this month.
“The Ghanaian government must prioritise what is invaluable for the people of Ghana: Atewa Forest is the crown jewel of the country’s biodiversity and the water towers for three major river systems,” said Frederick Kwame Kumah, WWF Africa Region Director.
“Bauxite mining in Atewa will cause unimaginable destruction to the forest and river ecosystems and directly impact people’s basic livelihoods.”
Simon Stuart, Synchronicity Earth’s Director of Strategic Conservation added “if mining proceeds in the Atewa Forest, not only will we seal the fate of several species, including two endemic frogs, but we also set the appalling precedent that mining can proceed in hugely important places for biodiversity without an Environmental Impact Assessment.
"We call on the Government of Ghana to cancel this project and to stop the damage before it is too late.”