Parliament has rejected calls by stakeholders for an immediate stop of the ongoing sea sand harvesting by the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) for the construction of a second oil terminal at the port of Mombasa at a cost of Sh40 billion.
The National Assembly’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee has instead given the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) a one-week ultimatum to urgently convene a meeting to amicably resolve the dispute between KPA, the stakeholders and residents of Kwale County over the sad harvesting that has been riddled with controversy.
The committee made the announcement on Friday during a meeting with tourism, stakeholders, fishermen and beach management unit members at Diani on how to address the dispute since the sea mining commenced more than a month ago.
The committee chairman Kareke Mbiuki said the meeting was called after the stakeholders petitioned parliament against the sand harvesting off the award winning Diani beach at Waa and Tiwi for environmental reasons.
Diani has been voted as the best beach destination in the world for the last five consecutive years and there are fears that persistent sea sand mining will strip it off that glory and hence kill tourism in South Coast.
“The committee directs that the meeting of all stakeholders be urgently convened to discuss and agree on the appropriate measures to be taken to mitigate any adverse effects of sea sand harvesting,” Mbiuki said.
Other State agencies expected to participate in the meeting include the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) and the Kenya Fisheries Authority. NEMA admitted that it had partly relied on the recommendations of these two authorities as lead agencies, to authorize the sand harvesting.
Though the committee conceded there were ecological impacts of sand harvesting in the region, it recommended that a proper environment management plan be agreed upon during the stakeholders meeting.
It also faulted NEMA for licensing the sand harvesting based on a rapid environment impact assessment instead of a comprehensive one saying every phase of a project should be subjected to critical and separate appraisal of its effects on the environment.
The committee also censured the environment body for being rather too lenient with government projects when assessing them for environmental impact and asked it to treat all projects equally.
During the meeting, Kwale Senator Isa Juma Boy, MPs KassimTandaza (Matuga) and Benjamin Tayrai (Kinango) joined local residents in calling on the government to immediately stop the sand harvesting.
They said the harvesting will have devastating effects on marine life and lead to massive loss of livelihoods to thousands of fishermen among other people.
South Coast has 130 tourist class hotels that directly employ 26,000 people whose jobs are at stake including possible losses in investments if the harvesting is not halted, the stakeholders said.
However, Mbiuki who is also the Maara MP said the sand harvesting will continue as his committee looks into the matter.
He added that the committee which had earlier met the KPA management will compile a report based on its findings and table it before the National Assembly by the end of this month.
County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo who was present banned further public demonstrations on the sand harvesting issue citing lawlessness that could pose a threat to security and ruin the local economy if allowed to continue.
The arrival of the committee was preceded by a peaceful demonstration against the sand harvesting at Congo Beach organized by among others South Coast Residents Association, Kenya Hotel Keepers and Caterers Association and the Beach Management Units.
By James Muchai