The bodies of 16 illegal miners have been recovered from an abandoned mine pit in Ghana after it collapsed on 15 April 2013. Another six were rescued but one miner later died in hospital.
Days prior to the tragic incident, the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Alhaji Inusah Fuseini reported that over 300 illegal miners died as a result of frequent mine accidents in 2011 and 2012.
Ghana had recently renewed efforts to clamp down on illegal mining, arresting more than 120 Chinese nationals involved in illegal mining in March. There has been an influx of foreigners that have come to the country to mine illegally.
Over and above this though, Ghana has a long standing issue of illegal mining, referred to in the country as ‘galamsey’. Illegal mining can be very dangerous as miners are ill equipped to take adequate safety precautions. These activities also pose risks to communities leading to environmental degradation, poor water quality as well as safety issues.
Despite soaring gold prices in recent years, the abundance of mining activity and contribution of the mining sector to the economy, Ghanaians have not reaped benefits from mining in terms of jobs. There has been a significant decline in the contribution of mining to total formal employment and an increase in precarious work forms in the sector. There has also been a switch from labour to capital intensive mining leaving many miners unemployed as well as farming communities that have lost their land to make way for mining operations that are without alternative livelihoods.
“Such illegal activity that led to this tragedy takes place against a backdrop of desperation with no economic opportunities available to them that leads to people taking part in these dangerous and environmentally degrading activities,” said Prince Ankrah, General Secretary of the Ghana Mine Workers Union. “To address this as a nation, Ghana must develop policies that end precarious work, lead to job creation and certainty for a sustainable livelihood.”
It is estimated that over one million people are engaged in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in Ghana and their labour produces a quarter of Ghana’s gold production annually, up from 9 per cent in 2000. However majority of their activities are unlicenced, informal and considered illegal.
Ghana has made efforts to improve licensing access and formalize ASM but these efforts lack sufficient depth. Whilst legal reform and enforcement is required and could address some of the worst practices found in the sector such as child labour and sexual violence, adequate support for ASM, such as providing access to finance, tools, materials and training, needs to also be developed to ensure that health and safety standards and environmental protection can be met.