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Migori’s sand harvesters destroy farm lands homes

An active sand mining area close to homesteads at Modi village in Nyatike subcounty

Tens of Lorries arrive every hour in Modi village near Lwanda Market in Nyatike constituency of Migori County and moments after speed off laden with heaps of sands ready to supply to construction sites that are ever increasing in the region.
The business of scooping sand for sale is booming in the village that the miners have closed their eyes and ears to the obvious risks that can befall their homes and their health besides the total destruction of the area’s environment.
To the locals engaged in the activity, the norms to guide the people to accord the dead decent treatment even in their graves have all been ignored and the only thing loathed here is somebody trying to stop the business.
Many graves of relatives to the local residents have been destroyed and remains of the dead exhumed and reburied elsewhere with the sole purpose of getting sand at all costs.
And with the increased demand for the resource sweeping the region, focus has been shifted to harvesting sand even within the residents’ compounds, leaving houses precariously suspended on shaky ground surrounded by deep water-filled quarries.
“It is our concern that people are scooping sand even within their compounds leaving their houses marooned in the middle of deep ponds that are a risk to their own lives and that of their families,” complained an environment expert, Peter Onduru when KNA visited Modi village last Friday.
Modi is just one among several villages in Nyatike facing the threat of total destruction through illegal sand harvesting.
Years of uncontrolled sand mining in the region that outpaces natural replenishment have greatly put pressure on agricultural land, causing acute food shortages annually for the local population.
The illegal activity has threatened the livelihood of thousands of small-scale farmers whose land it affects through destruction of vegetation, reduced fertile land and farm productivity and, eventually expose the whole community to food insecurity.
And with the area for getting the sand fast diminishing due to uncontrolled sand harvesting leading to dry the local rivers, the sand harvesters have turned to gullible homesteads to excavate the sand in exchange of a pittance doled to the home owners.
The scarcity of sand in local rivers and in the open fields is now forcing home owners to offer their small plots behind their homesteads and including their compounds for sand scooping oblivious of the great dangers they are exposing themselves to.
Maurice Midega, whose home has become an island, perched in the middle of gaping sand quarries, says he minds nothing so long as the sand harvesting business is able to earn him between Sh300 and Sh500 per truckload of sand.
“This is better fast paying business than planting food crops in an area that is known for erratic weather conditions leading to poor agricultural production. A farmer is not sure whether his crops will germinate in the first place,” said Midega during an interview recently.
Mrs. Joyce Nyamboga, 65, and a widow for over 20 years says she has been engaged in sand harvesting business for the entire period after her husband’s death to enable her eke a living for her family.
Out of the five acres her husband left for the family, only a quarter acre has been put into farming with the rest rented out to sand harvesters who scoop the commodity and pay her Sh450 per Lorry load of sand.
The graves of her husband and that of her third born son were in 2014 unearthed and remains reburied elsewhere within the abandoned sand quarry outside her homestead, according to impeccable sources, although she vehemently denied the narrative for fear of attracting the wrath of her in-laws.
The deep gaping holes left behind by sand harvesters have become a health risk since they have turned into mosquito breeding grounds during rainy seasons, leading to unending bouts of Malaria, bilharzia, amoeba and cholera repeatedly attacking local populations.
Sand harvesting business, for obvious reasons, has manifested itself as one among the many activities responsible for child abuse cases in the region.
Many school going children have been engaging in the business, especially when schools are closed and statistics indicates that quite a number have completely dropped out of class due to the sand trade.
“This is our Gold. We have no gold deposits like found in Osiri and other parts of Nyatike where the precious mineral is the main economic drive to the people. So we have to embrace it wholly even with the attendant risks,” stressed 17 year-old school dropout, John Ochieng’.
As demand for sand continues to soar, environmentalists fear the extraction of sand in the region is not about to end soon, despite the enactment of strict legislation that regulate harvesting of sand.
The laws Enacted in 2014 and being enforced by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) have since restored some order in the sand mining sector even though the compliance rate is still below average.
County NEMA Director, Mr. Parnmwel Simitu, says they have issued restriction orders to some of the culprits in the area but compliance has not been good because many of them have turned to employing unorthodox ways to beat the sand harvesting ban in place.
“The new national guidelines put in place in 2017 have also achieved very little results in this area due to the high unemployment and poverty levels that are driving the local people to engage in illegal sand harvesting as the only available alternative means to eke a living in the villages around,” added Simitu.
With no other good ventures to earn the locals good money like sand harvesting, many believe that extraction of sand on local farms and within homesteads will continue unabated, the punitive legislation notwithstanding.
By George Agimba

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