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FoN opposes immediate ban of mercury in Ghana

By
Godwill Arthur-Mensah, GNA

Accra, Aug. 1, GNA – Friends of the Nation
(FoN), an environmental Non-Governmental Organisation, has opposed an immediate
ban on the importation of mercury into the country and, therefore, advised the
Government to tread cautiously to prevent any backlash.

It said an immediate ban on mercury imports
and use may make the current illegal mining situation even worse because it
would force miners into black markets.

A press statement signed by Mr Donkris Mevuta,
the Executive Director of FoN, and copied to the Ghana News Agency on Tuesday,
said the strict approach to ban the metal by the end of the year was likely to
backfire if miners were not helped to find alternatives.

On July 19, 2017, at a media briefing in
Accra, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, the Minister of Environment,
Science, Technology and Innovation, announced a plan by government to ban the
import of mercury for artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) by the end
of this year.

The statement noted that since Ghana did not
produce mercury, the ban would, in effect, affect the use of mercury in
small-scale mining.

“While we strongly support the eventual
phase-out of mercury use in ASGM, criminalising mercury use will undermine
ongoing efforts to help miners to make the transition to mercury-free
sustainable mining.

“Instead, the Government should follow a
comprehensive plan of providing needed assistance for legal miners, strong
legal enforcement against those who are operating illegally, and comprehensive
tracking and management of mercury imports and distribution,” it explained.

It asked government to learn from the
experiences of other countries that had banned the use of mercury in ASGM
including Indonesia, Mongolia, Philippines, Burkina Faso and Ecuador, as well
as those that banned its imports like Senegal and Mali.

In April 2017, in response to serious
environmental impacts caused by the growing artisanal and small scale mining
sector in Ghana, the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources placed a six-month
moratorium on all artisanal and small-scale mining with the intention to
reviewing the status of the sector and 
identifying solutions.

The statement indicated that the Ministry put
forth public consultation on a draft Project Appraisal Implementation Document
of the Multilateral Mining Integrated Project (MMIP).

This project includes a comprehensive plan to
crack down on illegal mining, while at the same time providing technical,
administrative and financial support to those miners who wish to operate
legitimately.

“Whiles we commend this initiative, we urge
the Government to tread cautiously about dealing with issues on the use of
mercury in ASGM.

“This can severely undermine legitimate
efforts to help miners move away from mercury usage. In fact, such laws
sometimes have the perverse outcome of increasing mercury exposures, because
some miners choose to burn amalgam in secret, indoors, which exposes them and
their families to health risk.

It recommended, under the new Minamata
Convention on Mercury, that  countries
where ASGM takes place must reduce, and where feasible, eliminate mercury use
in the sector.

However, the Convention does not require an
outright ban of mercury use.     

Instead, it suggests a different approach that
recognises the need for a period of transition during which miners will be
given assistance, knowledge and training to convert to lower mercury, and
ultimately non-mercury processes while still reaping the economic benefits that
ASGM can yield.

“This same enlightened approach was outlined
in the new MMIP programme, which includes technical and financial assistance
for miners to transition away from mercury use,” it explained.

The Minamata Convention requires that countries
manage the trade of mercury, including new procedures requiring written consent
from a country before mercury can be imported there.

Ghana can comply with these provisions by
creating a comprehensive programme to track mercury imports including origin,
quantities and intended uses, its distribution and uses once it enters the
country.

It said such a tracking programme would allow
the Government to ensure that mercury was used by legal entities and eventually
eliminate its use.

GNA

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