Mining: Enemy to Ghana’s Water Resources? – Part 1

Photo credit: Obuasi Community Mining

Ghana is fairly endowed with rich mineral resources. It was formerly called Gold Coast because of the abundance of large quantities of Gold in most parts of the southern sector such as Obuasi, Tarkwa and Pristea. Although the name is now Ghana following the attainment of independence in 1957, the extraction of gold and other resources still continues and contributes enormously to the economic development of the country.1For example, mining accounts for about 9.1% of Ghana’s GDP2 and serves as a source of employment for about 260,6623 citizens formally.


“With regards to the environment, water courses are usually turned into reservoirs for the disposal of dangerous chemicals such as cyanide and mercury”

Despite this role played by the mining sector to the socio economic development of Ghana, the adverse impacts of mining activities are on the rise. These impacts are often viewed with different spectacles depending on the level of impact and the area of interest. With regards to the environment, water courses are usually turned into reservoirs for the disposal of dangerous chemicals such as cyanide and mercury.

Before we go on to the bigger question of whether mining is an enemy to Ghana’s water resources, let’s look at some historical perspectives to water resources management:

Customary Water Resources Management

Before independence, traditional norms and customs served the basis for protection of water resources from human intrusion and pollution. Water bodies were considered the preserve of gods and ancestral homes and thus were kept sacred. An interview conducted by Agyenim and Gupta4 revealed that the following rules were among other practices used to protect water resources: prohibition

‘(a) of people from farming close to river banks which were considered the abode of river gods; and

(b) of human activities in certain sacred forests and groves.’4

These practices extended beyond the boundaries of protecting watercourses/bodies to the conservation of biodiversity and other species5. Fishing and hunting were done under controlled circumstances. Fishing was banned on certain days and seasons and hunters prohibited from hunting pregnant animals. Below is a summary of some of the customary practices for biodiversity conservation.

Some customary practices for biodiversity conservation
Some customary practices for biodiversity conservation

Shrines were usually sited near watercourses/bodies. This instilled in the local folks the spirit of alertness when farming, mining or undertaking any activity around these areas. The citizens feared they would displease the gods should they do anything that degrades the natural environment. These practices varied from one ethnic group to the other and were informed largely by the origin and social structure of ethnic groups6. They all however were hinged on the principle of protecting and sustaining the environment.

These laws were backed by sanctions and enforced by the priests in consultation with the gods and the ancestors themselves. Some of these sanctions included ostracism7, labour work or even summoning individuals to answer queries before the elders. It is argued that these customary rules were usually unsustainable8 as they lacked institutional arrangements as well as non-enforceability in legal terms. However, they formed the basis for community participation in water management and conservation issues. Modern trends and constitutional regimes however find this outmoded and thus the traditional setting for water conservation is now null and void.

Legal Aspects to Water Resources Management in Ghana

Colonial rule and the introduction of Christian beliefs into traditional settings rendered traditional practices and customs less potent but did not fade off completely6. Chiefs dominating influence on water and land management issues were overpowered by the Governors.

Legal efforts to managing water resources actually started in 1903 following the enactment of the Rivers Ordinance (CAP 226) to regulate the use of certain rivers regarding dredging and diversion of water for various uses9. Under this enactment, it is stipulated that, diversion, pumping or any act that causes water to flow out of the natural course of a river for the purposes of farming and industrial uses without a licence from the minister is illegal9. There was however no regulations to back this enactment and thus it was overtaken by time following which other legislations were made10. These follow-up enactments were targeted at mandating agencies and departments to perform some distinct functions.

Following independence in 1957, water resources management was given considerable focus and attention considering the paucity of enactments relating to water resources that were enacted. While some had some customary norms informing their enforcement and implementation mechanisms, others frown on the existing traditional practices that managed the respective water sectors5.

Until in 1996, when legislations perhaps taking inspiration from the fact that the 1992 constitution of Ghana, made provisions for the establishment of commissions to oversee, regulate and co-ordinate policies relating to the utilisation and management of some natural resources such as minerals commission and the fisheries commission 11established the Water Resources Commission (WRC), water resources were fragmentally managed.

The WRC since its establishment is tasked to perform the following functions:

  • Regulation and management of the utilisation of water resources as well as co-ordination of policies relating to  them.
  • Propose measures for the improvement of water resources.
  • Issuance of water rights.
  • Water resources’ data and information dissemination.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of programs for the maintenance of water resources.
  • Advising pollution control agencies on the matters concerning the management and prevention of water  resources pollution.12

Currently, the WRC is the commission that oversee water resources utilisation in Ghana and coordinates the activities of other agencies and departments within it ambits.

Continue  | Part 2 | References |