Illegal sand harvesting in Taita Taveta is stretching nature to its limits if the tens of once-permanent dry rivers would be lined up as witnesses before an environmental court of law.
For the likes of Peter Mwakera, John Maghua, and Samson Kitawi- a youthful trio in their early twenties- sand harvesting has been the only income-generating activity they have known since their childhood.
“We have been harvesting sand from local rivers since the time we could hold steady a shovel. We grew into it and after secondary school, we dived deep into it as the only source of income,” says Mwakera, the oldest of the trio as they shoveled sand into an awaiting lorry.
Oblivious to the adverse effects of their actions on the environment, the trio has no plans of venturing into any other economic activity as long as the rivers continue giving sand.
However, their future hangs in the balance as the once permanent rivers busting their banks with torrents are slowly turning into trickles of water streams that will possibly dry up once the dry season sets in properly.
While Taita Taveta County has elaborate natural resource management and environmental protection legislation, illegal sand harvesters always beat the system and pile into Lorries.
“True, we have comprehensive legislation to protect and manage natural resources, sand included. However, the menace of illegal sand harvesting is beyond control as the perpetrators have come up with dirty tactics to defeat our good intentions,” said Abraham Juma, the chairperson for the Environment, Natural Resources, Forestry & Mining Committee for Taita Taveta County assembly.
In the late hours of the night, illegal sand harvesters descend on river banks and scoop the sand, shoveling it into waiting trucks with revving engines. They start at midnight and by 5 am they are all gone. The only evidence left is river beds exposed to the unforgiving daylight heat.
Now tens of rivers around the county have dried up except for a few with little water that will not last the drought season.
To avert a looming environmental disaster in a county where water scarcity bites, the county government with the help of National Government officers, relevant ministries, and agencies has come together to educate the public on the need for environmental conservation.
Part of that public education has been on the impact of illegal sand harvesting on river banks and encouraging the public to abide by the regulations stipulated in the county’s environmental protection and resource management regulations.
“We’re collaborating with the national government through its officers, ministries, agencies, and non-governmental organisations to spread the awareness of environmental protection and conservation. We hope for a behavioral and attitude change if we are to reverse the far-reaching effects of climate change and wanton destruction of the environment,” said Edith Kalo, National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) official based at Mwatate.
By Arnold Linga Masila