Martin Kpebu leads A Rocha Ghana and others to sue Ghana government over environmental fallout of bauxite mining in Atewa Forest Featured

By Priscilla Owusu January 15, 2020 1270 56 comments

A campaign group with over 20 civil society organisation members has launched a joint action against the Government of Ghana in the hope of stopping it from mining bauxite in the Atewa Forest Reserve.

Notice of intention to file the lawsuit, which is in the names of the environmental protection groups A Rocha Ghana and Flower Ghana together with the activists Awula Serwah and Oteng Adjei, was served on the Government of Ghana by Martin Kpebu of Fugar & Co on Monday (13 January).

The notice of intention to sue “is pursuant to Section 10 of the State Proceedings Act 1998 (Act 555). The action intends to protect and safeguard the environment pursuant to the constitutional duty imposed on us under Article 41(k) of the Constitution of Ghana, 1992,” A Rocha said.

The action seeks an order to restrain the government, “its assigns and agents, servants, workmen, allotees and guarantees whatsoever and howsoever described” from mining or undertaking related activities in the Atewa Range Forest.

The Office of the Attorney General told the Daily Statesman that it would consider the notice “only after receipt of comments by the affected sector ministry” but that the Office “is yet to receive the requisite comments”.

Sinohydro reserves

Besides filing their lawsuit, the environmental campaigners have suggested alternatives which will allow the government to pursue ambitious national plans to mine bauxite – but far away from places such as Atewa, whose destruction, they argue, would have catastrophic ill-effects.

“It is the case that Ghana does not need to exploit the Atewa Forest bauxite reserves since there are far richer bauxite reserves, according to information available to the government and to the entire Ghanaian populace,” A Rocha said.

To develop an integrated national aluminium industry, the Government of Ghana reached agreement last year with the Chinese state-run construction and logistics giant Sinohydro on a deal worth US$2 billion. The Sinohydro compact, which has also set up the Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Corporation (GIADEC) to pursue accelerated national economic development, involves China building infrastructure and providing investment in exchange for alumina and other processed products made from bauxite.

The bauxite reserve targeted for mining is estimated at over 900 million metric tonnes. It sits across three sites: Nyinahin, the Atewa Forest Reserve and Awaso, which also affects the Atewa Forest.

Despite opposition from local and international environmental organisations and activists, the government is determined to press ahead with its plans. In response, the coalition of civil society organisations – which includes EcoCare Ghana, the Ghana Youth Environment Movement and Save the Frogs Ghana – has chosen not to back down.

Raw material

The Atewa Hills were designated a reserve in 1926 to protect their value as a watershed. Over the years, however, people began to recognise other values of the forest.

For some, Atewa’s value lies not in the forest itself but in the minerals beneath the soil. The trees sit on 150 million tonnes of bauxite, the vital raw material used to make aluminium.

This is not the first time local environmental campaigners have suggested that the government do nothing harmful in Atewa.

“In 2016, A Rocha and partners published a report on the economics of Atewa Forest and found that if it were granted National Park status, with a well-managed buffer zone, it would return higher economic value to Ghana over 25 years than mining would,” Awula Serwah, a leading member of Eco-Conscious Citizens Ghana, told the Daily Statesman.

Fighting the power

The reserve houses the headwaters of the Birim, Densu and Ayensu Rivers as well as their tributaries, all of which are vital water sources for the surrounding communities, including Accra, serving five million people. In addition, more than 1,000 plant species and 227 species of birds that live in the forest are threatened globally.

The protest group and other CSOs say the environmental cost will be “very detrimental [sic]” for Ghana, and that “it would be best not to exploit the Atewa Range Forest”, despite the benefits that may come with mining bauxite there.

“In the same spirit of environmental protection, we have sent a petition to both the presidency and Parliament but the Government of Ghana consistently demonstrates no interest at all in these actions,” A Rocha Ghana said.

“It is against this background that we serve notice to bring a lawsuit against the Government of Ghana, should they fail to exclude Atewa Range Forest from the bauxite mining project.

“It is unfortunate that we have to fight our own government to protect the environment.”

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Last modified on Thursday, 16 January 2020 08:15


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