18 January 2021
In Eastern Ghana lies the Atewa Range Forest Reserve, internationally recognised as one of the most important natural resources to protect in Africa for its biodiversity – its range of plants and animals that keep the ecosystem thriving. But for decades the range has been facing degradation caused by timber harvesting, hunting, and encroaching farms and gold mines.
This degradation would be made worse by plans to mine bauxite within the Atewa forest. In 2018, the Government of Ghana signed a deal with China that involves hydropower company Sinohydro to build infrastructure across Ghana through a loan to be repaid with receipts from Ghana’s refined bauxite. Atewa Range is earmarked as one of the bauxite sources. Bauxite mining in the forest would threaten its biodiversity, and endanger the rights of communities who depend on the forest for food, livelihoods and clean water.
Atewa Forest is a key ecosystem in West Africa. It is classified as a Globally Significant Biodiversity Area – sites that we know contribute significantly to global biodiversity - and as a protected forest reserve, which means all mining activities are supposed to be excluded.
The forest contains enormous plant diversity, with at least 1100 species. It is home to some 100 threatened or endangered species, including the White-collared Mangabey, a primate recently found in Atewa just this year and one that is close to extinction in the wild. It also houses over 570 species of butterfly – the highest number in West Africa. All of these species are crucial to maintaining the health of the ecosystem that impacts climate far beyond its boundaries. Healthy forests act as carbon sinks – collectively the third largest carbon sink on the planet – meaning they absorb carbon from our atmosphere, therefore vital to mitigating global climate change.
The three river systems that run through the range also provide clean drinking water for five million Ghanaians, and play a key role in sustaining local industries and agriculture. Atewa Range has been traditionally managed for water production, nature conservation and recreation.
Despite the importance Atewa Range plays in maintaining a strong ecosystem and surrounding climate, the Ghanaian government has shown it intends to allow mining in the area, with flagrant disregard for its protected status.
After the deal with China was signed, the Government of Ghana started clearing roads in Atewa to undertake exploratory drilling for bauxite.
In response to the deal, local people launched a civil action in July 2020, led by national environmental organisation A Rocha Ghana, stating that plans to exploit Atewa range for bauxite violate their right to have the environment protected for future generations. We’ll be working closely with A Rocha Ghana to support the action and the global campaign to protect Ghana’s most precious natural resource. The trial is likely to go ahead this year.
Joanna Pickering, a ClientEarth lawyer who is supporting the action, said:
“The rights to life and dignity are enshrined in the Constitution of Ghana – to protect the human rights of Ghanaians, the Atewa range must be protected from mining.
A healthy environment is key to the protection of human rights.”