Atewa Forest: Ghana’s Life Source
Atewa Forest is not just important for the wildlife living there, but also vital to the people of Ghana. It is the source of three important rivers—the Densu, Birim and Ayensu Rivers—that provide water to more than 5 million Ghanaians, including the households of more than 1 million people in the country’s capital city of Accra. The forest and rivers also support the livelihoods of local communities and farmers who live on the forest’s fringes.
And yet soon after Ghana’s elections at the end of 2016, the country’s new government confirmed its plans to allow the mining of the bauxite—the chief ingredient in aluminum—found beneath Atewa Forest in a financial deal with the Chinese government, effectively giving permission to rip up the forest floor.
“Water quality is a problem here, and as a country we’re already struggling to meet the water needs of the people,” says Daryl Bosu, deputy national director of operations for A Rocha Ghana. “So why are we planning to sacrifice the watershed when bauxite can be found in other places in the country in very large volumes and quantities with minimal impact on biodiversity and environmental services to people?”
Economics of H20
Although the government has promoted bauxite mining as the country’s economic panacea, an economics study commissioned by A Rocha and the IUCN in 2016 actually found that protecting Atewa and a buffer areas around it as a national park—rather than mining it for bauxite—had the highest economic value for the country, with tremendous benefits to communities both upstream and down.
To underscore how vital Atewa Forest is to Ghanaians, a local group called the Concerned Citizens of the Atewa Forest Landscape—made up of community leaders representing women, church groups, youth and other civil society sectors—put on an ambitious protest earlier this year with A Rocha. Protesters marched from the center of the forest in the scorching sun with buckets of water in hand, which they delivered to the statehouse after a grueling 59-mile walk.
A famous Ghanaian musician, MzVee, joined the march, proudly holding up banners in support of a national park. MzVee had previously joined a number of other prominent musicians in creating a music video, Atewa Till Eternity, to urge the government to designate Atewa Forest as a national park.
In addition, more than 120,000 people globally have added their names to a petition to declare Atewa Forest a national park, in part to protect it for the wildlife and in part to protect it for the water services it provides.
“We knew we needed to create a strong coalition at the local level, the landscape level, and also at the national level to change the mind of the government from targeting Atewa for bauxite mining,” Bosu says. “It’s inspiring to see such an impressive community of people come together to protect this special place that sustains so much life.”