Uncontrolled sand harvesting degrading environment in Kitui County
Uncontrolled sand harvesting has led to the collapse of several rivers in Kitui County, posing a major threat to ecosystem in the area.
Despite the county government having imposed a ban on sand harvesting, the illegal business was still ongoing, even without authorization by the relevant authorities.
Seasonal Rivers like Nguutani in Mwingi West constituency and River Kivou in Mwingi Central sub county are now on the verge of drying up, due to unrestrained sand harvesting which has destroyed river beds, collapsed river banks and drained water points.
The two rivers are just an pattern of what is happening in several parts of Kitui and residents are now calling upon the County government to move with speed and curb the vice, with a view to sustaining the ecosystem.
According to Nguutani Ward MCA, Stephen Katana, several rivers in Mwingi West have been invaded by illegal sand harvesters, who have destroyed the streams, leaving behind deep ditches which are dangerous to the people living nearby.
Katana said with the county government having imposed ban on sand harvesting, nobody should be given permit to do so.
Speaking on the thorny issue on Friday, Migwani OCPD, Julius Muu confirmed that indeed area governor Charity Ngilu had issued an order banning sand harvesting.
Meanwhile, the seasonal Kivou River, which was once thriving, is now a pale shadow of its glorious past due to illegal sand harvesting.
“Excessive sand harvesting activities have eroded the river banks and stretched the width of the river from the initial 20 meters to over 200 meters. This expansion has ploughed into adjacent farms,” said Kasioka Kioko, a resident whose eroded farm touches the river.
According to Kasyoka, the quick cash earned for loading trucks with sand has attracted many youths into the area, bring with it adverse effects of rising cases of drugs and substance abuse.
“The loaders, once they are paid for their services retreat into cheap liquor dens where they spend all the day’s earnings. Many of them have left their families destitute and languishing in poverty,” she added.
Kasyoka disclosed that youths, who once engaged in irrigation farming along the river, have now been rendered jobless, adding that some have resorted to petty crime.
She said that in the past, the seasonal Kivou River was a major source of fresh vegetables due to constant availability of water. This is not the case anymore, as water points have dried up leading to collapse of vegetable farms, added Kasyoka.
The affected points by irregular sand harvesting include Ndalani and Kwa Nduuthi where the river bed has been dug and left with huge life threatening gaping holes.
“The seasonal river serves over 6, 000 residents of Kivou Ward and Mwingi town. In the dry months of August and September, trucks and donkeys alike descend on the river in search for water,’ said Kasyoka.
A spot check by KNA revealed that currently the river has more than five sand drawing outlets, which is contrary to National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) guidelines.
No wonder then, that the river, which had created hundreds of direct jobs for youths in the area has since lost its potential to support horticulture.
The locals have also raised concern that school going children could be taking part in illegal sand harvesting activities under the cover of darkness, due to rising cases of school drop-outs in search for jobs in this river.
Disintegration of the family unit is imminent in this area. Most of the loaders spend whole nights at the river and later go to bars to drink. Kivou shopping centre that had one bar in the past has an additional three at the moment targeting the loaders’ cash.
Kioko Kithendu, an octogenarian living in the area has raised alarm, saying that future generations were at a risk, if the river is not rehabilitated from the ravages of uncontrolled sand harvesting.
“Massive sand harvesting has seriously drained this river leading to acute water shortage. Women travel for over four kilometres to the next water point. Wells at nearby homes have dried up,” lamented Kithendu.
He said that a lorry full of sand costs less than Sh.6, 000 with no tax remittance to the County Government.
Residents are now calling on NEMA and the national government to intervene and avert a possible environmental crisis that might huge ramifications on lives of the people.
By Yobesh Onwong’a