The Africa Environmental Health and Pollution Management Programme (AEHPMP), aimed at reducing exposure to mercury and unintentional Persistent Organic Pollutants (uPOPs) in the country has been launched at Awhitieso in the Tarkwa-Nusaem Municipality of the Western Region.

The programme would strengthen the institution's capacity to manage and regulate mercury use in Artisanal Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) and Electronic-waste (e-waste) in Ghana.

The five-year project has received US$8,715,028.00 grant agreement between Ghana and the World Bank and would be implemented in the Western, Ashanti and Greater Accra Regions.

For Western and Ashanti regions the focus would be on mining pollutions associated with ASGM, while the Greater Accra region would concentrate on e-waste pollution and its effect.

Some African countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Senegal and Zambia are implementing the same programme.

Dr Kwaku Afriyie, Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, who launched the project, said the programme had come at a time the entire nation had been engaged in the illegal mining dialogue.

This, he said, would offer the implementors the opportunity to have quality interaction with the relevant organizations and associations for better training and capacity development.

“We are in the age of high technological advancement which has brought about tremendous progress in sciences, communication, medicine, agriculture, transport, energy, construction among others. Consequently, the demand for mineral resources to feed these developments has become insatiable” he said.

Dr Afriyie noted that the extractive industry was leaving high environmental cost that the country cannot afford to overlook.

"According to the 2017 edition of the Global E-Waste Monitor, only 20 percent of e-waste generated globally is recycled in a manner that could be acceptable as environmentally sound. The rest is either stored in people’s homes, offices, garages, dumped locally or traded illegally across borders to less endowed countries where unsustainable and crude methods of treatment are employed to extract useful fractions culminating in the creation of poor sites around the country” he stated.

He said gold accounts for 90 percent of the nations total mineral exports and ASGM contributes to approximately a third of the total gold production, added that it was worthy to note that Ghana has overtaken South Africa to emerge as the top gold producing country.

He indicated that even though the ASGM sector played a critical role in the nation's economy, it was estimated to be responsible for over 700 tons per year of mercury emissions to the atmosphere and an additional 800 tons per year of mercury released to land and water, making it the largest man-made source of mercury.

The use of these heavy chemicals in the ASGM sector is legal in Ghana, but the improper handling, use and disposal of mercury has resulted in some documented cases of mercury intoxication among miners and non-miners in ASGM communities, the minister noted.

Dr Afriyie further said the inhalation of mercury vapour can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive, lung, kidney and immune system.

According to the minister, Ghana joined the international community to sign and ratified the Basel Convention on the Transboundary movement of hazardous waste and its disposal, as well as the Stockholm on POPs which commits the country to put in structures to prevent the transboundary illegal movement of hazardous waste including e-waste across borders.

Additionally, Dr Afriyie said upon recognizing that ASGM contributes significantly to the man-made emission of mercury, Ghana signed and ratified the Minamata Convention on mercury which also binds them to all the obligations under the convention particularly the provision on Article VII on ASGM.

He emphasized that Ghana has gone ahead and domesticated the Basel and Stockholm conventions into local legislations namely the Hazardous and Electronic Waste Control and Management Act, 2016 (Act 917) and its subsidiary legislation the Hazardous, Electric and other Wastes (Classification), Control and Management Regulations, 2016 (LI 2250) which have provided the legal framework to regulate the e-waste sector in Ghana.

Despite the national interventions, Dr Afriyie pointed out that there are implementation gaps in the effort to reduce the impact of e-waste and mercury use in ASGM activities on human health and the environment in Ghana.

He stated that "through this project, an estimated number of one million people dependent on the ASM industry for a living, and an estimated population of about 258,180 people in Ghana who are partially or entirely dependent on refurbishing and e-waste recycling operations would be supported while mercury management would receive assistance through the establishment of clean mining demonstration centres across the country".

The project coordinator, Mr Larry Kotoe, said the project has four components.

He said the first two components intends to strengthen the knowledge and capacity base of public institutions and private stakeholders, work on the current policy challenges as well as strengthen the regulatory frameworks and facilitate their implementation to address environmental health risks associated with mercury use in the ASGM sector and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)/ (uPOPs) released from e-waste.

The third component would finance specific community-focused cleaner technology demonstration activities in contaminated areas, selected and designed based on environmental health risks and cost-effectiveness of interventions, the project coordinator added.

According to Mr Kotoe, the final component would cover the cost of management, implementation and supervision, procurement monitoring and evaluation of project activities.

Mr Kwabena Okyere Darko-Mensah, Western Regional Minister, said the Regional Coordinating Council would put in maximum effort to ensure that the project has a positive impact on the environment and the citizens.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mines and Technology (UMaT), Professor Richard Kwasi Amankwah, said "UMaT is happy to pledge our support to the AEHPMP and we trust that together we can do a good job."

The programme was attended by Municipal and District Chief Executives, traditional authorities, officials of Environmental Protection Agency, Mining Companies, small scale miners and other stakeholders.