In Prestea, Ghana, gold mine expansion threatens water sources

By Chris Hufstader
Dominic Nyame at the main mining pit in Prestea.

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Prestea is a small city of about 40,000 people in the Western Region of Ghana. While this area has been a center of gold mining for more than 125 years, it did not become a large-scale industrial gold mining site until 1929. The mining took place in underground shafts until 2002 when changes in mining techniques brought the work above the surface. Since then, there have been a number of conflicts between mining companies and community members over compensation and job loss in the 1990s.

In 2002, Bogoso Gold Mines, a subsidiary of Golden Star Resources, acquired the mine concession and started to aggressively expand the mine pit towards the town. Use of explosives in the mine pit damaged homes in the Krutown neighborhood, and repairs effected by the company were not adequate, according to homeowners. In the neighboring village of Dumase there have been two cyanide spills in the Aprepre River in 2004 and 2006.

Community response

"In 2004 we could see the surface mine approaching the town, so we complained to the government but no one came to our aid," said Dominic Nyame, a burly 43-year-old former miner turned community organizer with the Concerned Citizens Association of Prestea. Community members said the encroaching mine pits brought blasting too close to nearby neighborhoods and houses were being damaged. "In 2005 we demonstrated against the company, and the military came to town and shot seven people—fortunately no one died." There has never been an independent investigation of this incident.

The communities of Prestea, as well as Himan, and Dumase that neighbor the Bogoso/Prestea mine, are requesting a comprehensive evaluation of the impact of the first phase of the Bogoso/Prestea project and for the company to respect their right to free, prior, and informed consent regarding the planned Prestea Southern Project.

The community of Dumase is also seeking damages in court from the 2004 and 2006 cyanide spills, and has formally requested that Golden Star Resources commission independent health investigations, but the company has not acted on this either.

Oxfam's involvement

Community members attended training sessions with Oxfam America's partner WACAM in 2005 to learn about their human rights, and how to teach others about their right to live in a safe environment and be consulted about the effects of the expanding mining operation. Community members went to Accra and met with reporters and got their grievances into the media, after which Bogoso Gold said they would reduce their blasting activity and form a joint committee to oversee future blasting.

But the issue of pit expansion is still a problem for people living in and near Prestea who fear being involuntarily relocated, or living too close to mine pits and blasting. The proposed pit expansion would also be within several hundred meters of a school, so many parents in this area are concerned about the safety of their children. In two prior incidents in 2006 security forces have moved people off of mine property by force, and the Concerned Citizens Association has had to use some of the training they received from WACAM to resolve these conflicts peacefully. "With WACAM we can calm the waters," Nyame said.

Company response

Bogoso Gold is currently suspending all mining activity and expansion while it negotiates with the citizens of Prestea, who are exerting their right to be consulted about how the mine operates, how it could possibly expand its operations into the southern part of Prestea, and the way it carries out any future blasting in the mine pits.