Sunday, January 11, 2009

$5 billion invested in mining in Ghana

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

More than US$5 billion have been devoted to new mining projects in Ghana in the past two decades, the President of the International Council on Mining and Metals has said.

Dr. R. Anthony Hodge, who is a leading authority on sustainable development in mining, said in an article published on the online version of the Sunday Monitor, a Ugandan publication that “during that time, the national poverty rate has fallen 12 percent.”

He said of Ghana’s 138 districts, its four mining districts have the lowest poverty levels in the country outside the capital, Accra, adding “effective disease control programmes have been a key component of this success.”

The article which appears to be a strong reaction to critics of the mining industry is titled “How to use Africa’s natural resources sustainably.”

Dr. Hodge who has worked as a professional engineer and consultant to industry and as an advisor to governments in his career cited numerous success stories in African countries where minerals are being mined.

He noted the recent honouring of former Bostwana President by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an Africa-based good governance group.

The Foundation honoured the former Botswana President Festus Mogae with its annual Achievement in African Leadership award.

Mr Mogae has been widely praised for promoting transparency and accountability in the Botswana government. Thanks in large part to his efforts, the small African nation has evolved over the past several decades into one of the continent’s great success stories, he wrote.

He said, Botswana’s history demonstrates that a developing country’s natural resources can be a blessing for economic development and democratic reform efforts.

Botswana has a bounty of natural resources, particularly diamonds.

Its economy has grown roughly 9 percent annually since 1966, and citizens share in a substantial slice of the benefits derived from its major diamond mines.

The Botswana government has funnelled much of the revenues generated by those natural resources into public works projects, including Aids treatments, road reconstruction, and education.

The Debswana mines in Bostwana, for instance, subsidise 100 percent of the anti-retroviral therapies, infection treatments, and related monitoring for employees and their families.

These efforts have been credited with reducing Aids-related employee deaths by 13 percent between 1999 and 2005.

Dr. Hodges’ findings are as a result of research conducted by his organisation, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), together with host governments, international donors and civil society groups. The study he said, found that Botswana was not alone among developing countries in benefiting from its natural resources.
Mineral extraction has positively contributed to economic and political progress in nearly half of the 33 countries studied, he said.

He stated that, beyond the achievements made so far, mining companies can help kick-start growth in developing countries, and cited case studies in Ghana, Tanzania, Chile and Peru as good examples. He said the studies revealed that mining investments proved especially beneficial to nations in the midst of economic revival.

On mining companies’ contribution to Ghana’s healthcare system, he said between 2005 and 2007, in Ghana’s Obuasi district, the mining firm AngloGold Ashanti developed a malaria control programme that brought the incidence of malaria down by 73 percent - with an average monthly reduction of 4,550 cases.

He also cited the Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative — a partnership between mining company BHP Billiton, the governments of Swaziland, Mozambique, and South Africa, and local organisations – which has helped reduce malaria deaths by nearly 80 percent in southern Africa.

This initiative is widely regarded as one of the most successful public-private partnerships to control disease and drive regional economic growth, he said. Adding, such examples show that mining firms can make a significant contribution to both a country’s economic development and its social well-being.

Working in partnership, industry and governments can strengthen local land rights, erect proper protections for the environment, control disease, and ensure that revenues are channelled productively back into communities — where they can make tremendous improvements in the quality of life.

These kinds of collaborative efforts are essential to achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and lifting Africans out of poverty, he suggested.

Addressing critics of the mining industry, he said, it’s rare this case is heard, of course. Critics often suggest that the mining industry takes much more from local communities than it returns. According to the “resource curse” theory, countries blessed with minerals and natural fuels are inevitably doomed to predatory governance and poverty.

Dr. Hodge is also currently Kinross Professor of Mining and Sustainability in the Department of Mining Engineering, and Helen and Arthur Stollery Professor of Mining Engineering and Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering, at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.


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