A Rocha Ghana, an environmental Non-profit Organization (NGO) said, saving Atewa is to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources but not the propaganda claim being made by the Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Corporation (GIADEC) during a meeting with journalists on Monday 5 April.
A statement signed by Mr Daryl Bosu, Deputy National Coordinator of A Rocha Ghana and copied to ghenvironment.org said, it rejects as ‘propaganda’ an apparent claim that the whole of Atewa Forest will be destroyed by bauxite mining.
The statement said, the area it will be ‘playing’ with – a surprising term to use for an activity that will cause so much damage to livelihoods, species, habitats, and clean water – was about 10 per cent or less over 50 years, and would mine 5million tonnes of bauxite in that time.
It said: "To be clear, civil society’s concerns are over the location proposed for bauxite mining – that is, the mountain tops – as this is within Atewa’s legally protected area and is also the most critical for biodiversity and clean water".
The statement said, the loss of the forest and habitats there would be irreversible and would also cause wider damage to the integrity and ecosystem service provision, but GIADEC seems to completely miss this point.
It said, bauxite mining in Atewa Forest, no matter how small, will be a terminal cancer that will erode forest integrity and the ecosystem services they provide overtime, adding, "Atewa is a critical forest ecosystem, which is not to be ‘played’ with."
The statement said, participants at the GIADEC workshop were briefed on a baseline biodiversity study of the proposed mining area as part of documenting the area’s life forms but that was unnecessary.
It said, several research documents both recent and old have already been published of the species found in Atewa Forest including the proposed mining area and that these reports show that Atewa Forest contains many endangered and endemic species that would be threatened with extinction if bauxite mining goes ahead.
"Instead of another biodiversity report, an independent Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (ESIA) is what is urgently needed to document how mining will impact on the forest, species, habitats, ecosystem services, livelihoods and access to clean water," the statement said.
It said, an ESIA is supposed to form part of any decision-making process over whether or not a development action should go ahead, but this has not been done.
"GIADEC’s statements did claim that reclamation plans have been proposed as well as draft report produced. These documents they claimed have not been publicly available," and how can civil society access them for independent examination and validation?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN’s) Resolution 087 passed in November 2020 urged the protection of the Atewa Forest, which received overwhelmingly support, “STRONGLY REQUESTS” all companies in the mining sector not to participate in any mining activities in or near Atewa Forest and all companies using aluminium to ensure that no aluminium from Atewa Forest enters their supply chains”.
According to the NGO, the Concerned Citizens of Atewa Landscape (CCAL) have made it very clear that they do not want mining companies entering their forests and destroying their resources, livelihoods, and clean water sources.
It said Civil society groups support their stand and urged caution to any private sector company interested in mining bauxite in the Atewa Forest, adding, "A number of aluminium user companies have already stated their objections to aluminium produced with bauxite from Atewa."
"If GIADEC is to fulfil its stated commitment to international best practices and standards, the Atewa Forest must be completely off limits to bauxite mining.
"GIADEC has done one good thing, though, by raising the issue of illegal mining and forest destruction in Atewa Forest, stating we will one day “get up and find that there is no forest at all”. Civil society has also made this point countless times over the years".
The statement said, the destruction of state gazetted forests by illegal activities should be the concern of any state agency that has the wellbeing of Ghanaians at its centre and that citizens should not have to fight government agencies to ensure that they benefit from the judicious and sustainable use of their country's natural resources.
"Or is the government and its agencies deliberately allowing the forest to be decimated by illegal actors, to serve as justification for mining it? A typical case of “give the dog a bad name so you can hang it”? (while communities continue to suffer the impacts?).
It said the problem observed by GIADEC will only get worse with bauxite mining: building mining roads into closed forests opens up currently inaccessible areas to illegal operators, adding that, "the illegal mining and logging you see today will flourish in the protected area once GIADEC facilitate access for illegal actors."
The statement said, there were currently several non-extractive uses for forests such as Atewa Forest that have significant prospects of harnessing green investments that will offer quality green jobs and ensure wellbeing for all.
"We urge GIADEC to work with us to explore these green investments for the benefits of Ghanaians today and tomorrow".