When rivers are dry and trees cut down, man will come to terms with the reality that he cannot eat money. One of the world’s important finite sources is slowly fading out. A report by the United Nation in 2014 indicated that 40 billion tons of sand are extracted every year. In the heart of Kenya, construction of skyscraper buildings is on the rise. The construction industry is booming as a result of urbanization and population growth. The demand for sand used for construction has therefore scaled upwards. The results, widespread ecological devastation.
Major areas in Kenya that experience sand harvesting in Kenya includes Machakos, Kajiado, Kitui, and Makueni. In 2007, the National Environment Management Authority of Kenya (NEMA) came up with guidelines to control illegal sand harvesting. These included issuance of licenses to sand miners. However, from time to time there is news of miners dying in sand harvesting places as a result of illegal harvesting.
Kivou River, in Mwingi, was once a key source of water and farming to about six thousand but it is now been drenched to its bed. The miners have extended their mining to farms around the river areas. Farmers with land adjacent to the rivers have been hit hard by this illegal activity that poses a threat to food security. To curb this NEMA needs to reinforce and issue a limit to the amount of sand harvested in a day by a single harvester.
Why is it hard to control sand harvesting?
What makes it hard to curb sand harvesting in Kenya revolves around a number of factors. Population growth in Kenya is expected to rise to about 95 million by the year 2050 and 156 million at the start of the 22nd century. Currently, the population is at around 46 million. The increase in population causes a need for housing. Many people are investing in the real estate sector thus taking part in sand harvesting to foresee construction.
Corruption also plays a key role in derailing the implementation of guidelines by NEMA. Kenya was ranked third globally in terms of corruption through a survey conducted by Pricewater Coopers in 2016. This has seen sand miners with no licenses get inclusion in this environmental hazard activity. Officials who receive bribes choose to overlook illegal sand harvesting.
Lack of employment in Kenya is an old problem particularly affecting the youth. Most have sort to venture in the sand harvesting business. Desperation for survival means has seen them turn to quick money making. However, they make low wages from this as compared to the toll it has on the environment. “Ukambani” regions are already struggling to get drinking water. People walk for about four kilometers before getting a water source. Creation of better-paying jobs by the government will help in the reduction of illegal sand harvesting.
Is it worth it?
The effects range from land degradation, poor health care, drought and depletion of natural resources. Sand from West Pokot, for example, is considered to be of high quality. Its harvesting has led to the formation of gullies on lands. However, West Pokot has learned from the restoration of degraded land in Ethiopia. Through awareness by the community, harvesting of sand is not allowed in areas with sand dams. Involving youth groups has helped curb soil erosion.
Where water runs off in sand dams, has seen the creation of sand dams to avoid carrying the sand away. It also holds the topsoil. The community holds the sand by constructing a stone modeled dam constructed by a mason assisted by some community members. Terracing in individual farms has also been embraced. This helps in creating micro-catchments which create moisture and create an environment for grass and tree growth. The practice of settled agriculture has also been embraced to ensure productivity.
School attendance by children is affected by sand harvesting as the paths used have dropped off steeply. Moreover, most children from poverty-stricken homes prefer participating in sand harvesting to earn a living. To combat this, new laws should be implemented pertaining to school attendance. Parents should be put on the spotlight if they fail to send their children to school. Awareness through talks should be carried out in the community and members involved in ensuring children attend school.
Miners’ health is at risk and they are not aware of it. Water contains impurities and chemicals. Since sand harvesting involves getting into the water, chemicals are absorbed by the body and accumulate in a period of time posing a threat to health. In addition to that, the low wages earned from sand harvesting do not allow the miners to seek medical services.
Is there another way?
Banning sand harvesting in these counties will not restore degraded land as the question of sustainability still remains. Sustainable sand mining is only going to be possible if there is a balance between quantities extracted and quantities replaced naturally. The fact that demand for housing is here to stay, other construction techniques should be used if we are to prevent a loss in biodiversity. In most developed countries recycling of construction materials is a common trend. In 2014, the UK saw nearly a third of housing materials come from recycled resources. These include the use of straw and mud in construction which supplement the use of concrete.
Tree planting should also be encouraged in these areas so at to trap rainfall and restore the water catchment areas that are dying slowly. NEMA should team up with local communities to prevent this environmental hazard activity as everyone is affected. Most people are not aware of future consequences.