Uncontrolled sand harvesting depletes river beds in Mwingi Central

Sand harvesting along Mangoloma River in Kivou, Mwingi Central has greatly reduced the river bed's water retention capacity posing severe environmental and socio-economic effects.

The drying river bed has forced locals to walk for 4-6 kilometres to fetch water for domestic use due to uncontrolled sand harvesting.

Kenya's rapidly growing populations in urban areas has contributed to an unprecedented demand for sand to meet the ever-rising needs of the building and construction industry.

In a bid to meet this demand, sand harvesters have invaded seasonal rivers in Kenya's arid and semi-arid areas, particularly those neighbouring the big cities, in search of this scarce commodity.

Speaking to Kenya News Agency at Mangoloma village Friday, Mwingi Central Assistant Commissioner, George Koleesh, said the unrestrained sand harvesting had some severe environmental and socio-economic effects.

The most notable environmental effects include drying up of aquifers, riverbank and river bed erosion alongside water and air pollution, reduced water table and loss of valuable trees and animal species, Koleesh noted.

However, speaking to sand loaders after a meeting to quell a dispute arising from misunderstanding in the area, the administrator, admitted that socio-economically, sand harvesting was a source of livelihood, through the provision of income and employment opportunities.

Koleesh said sand harvesting was also associated with some negative social problems such as deaths resulting from conflicts between sand harvesters and the local community, prostitution and abuse of drugs and alcohol, which threatened the security of the local residents.

Kivou Ward Administrator, Gideon Kithendu said the County Government of Kitui was on progress to enact laws and legislation centred on participatory sand harvesting for sustainable sand harvesting.

As at this point in time, sand harvesting remains banned in this locality until proper legislation is in place to regulate the activity, said Kithendu.

The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) developed guidelines in 2007 to provide procedure to streamline sand harvesting in the country with the view of making it sustainable industry that supports economic development for enhanced livelihood while safeguarding the environment.

The guidelines have been accepted as applicable, inclusive and friendly to the environment by the stakeholder.

It is therefore incumbent upon the players to comply with guidelines to ensure sustainable environmental management.

Kithendu said sand harvesting guidelines ensure sustainable utilisation of the sand resource and proper management of the environment.

According to NEMA, the Technical Sand Harvesting Committee (TSHC) has been given mandate to ensure that sand dams and gabions were constructed in designated harvesting sites.

In a quick rejoinder, Ngwai Nduvi, the Secretary of Mangoloma Self-Help Group said vehicles were supposed to use designated access roads only to sand harvesting sites that have been rehabilitated appropriately by Riparian Resource Management Association (RRMA).

Nduvi called for lifting of the ban to enable them eke a living adding that their Self-Help Group had put in place some measures to ensure that sand loaders were over 18 years and approved sand dealers pay the agreed wages to sand loaders.

According to NEMA, no person is allowed to harvest sand from any area not designated as sand harvesting site.

At Mangoloma River, this is not adhered to since the loaders and sand harvesters were scooping sand to adjacent farms leading to massive erosion whenever it rains.

Source: Kenya News Agency