Ideas & Debate

Save Lake region rivers from sand harvesting, dredging

sand

Sand harvesters along river Nzoia in Siaya County: Ugandan watchdog says sand mining will have a negative impact on Lake Victoria's eco-system. File Photo | TOM OTIENO | NMG

Summary

  • The increasing dependence on sand presents major challenges that this industry needs to address, including limited sand sources, illegal mining, and environmental impacts.
  • In September 2015, world leaders at the UN unanimously adopted Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, one of the most ambitious and important global agreements in recent history.
  • The agenda, which came into effect on January 1, 2016, aims to set the world on a path towards a better future for all by 2030.

The rapid urbanisation in the Lake region, which is projected to double in the next decade due to improved infrastructure and the recent developments of the port of Kisumu and on various bays, has increased the demand for building materials.

But developers must leave our rivers alone. If encouraged, it is a recipe for environmental degradation.

The increasing dependence on sand presents major challenges that this industry needs to address, including limited sand sources, illegal mining, and environmental impacts.

In September 2015, world leaders at the UN unanimously adopted Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, one of the most ambitious and important global agreements in recent history.

The agenda, which came into effect on January 1, 2016, aims to set the world on a path towards a better future for all by 2030.

ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of priorities and aspirations to guide all countries in tackling the world’s most pressing challenges including environmental degradation.

Sustainable development addresses the importance of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The recent request by National Environment Management Authority (Nema) on the public to present oral or written submissions to approve or object the mining of sand along the mouth of River Sondu-Miriu is procedural.

Public participation forms the core of the basic structure doctrine of our constitution.

The environmental effects of river dredging especially within the flood plains outweigh the benefits. Rivers must be allowed to flow naturally lest we face dire repercussions. Historically, people have been attracted to water bodies as places for living, industry, commerce and recreation.

During the early human migrations and settlement, locations near water provided necessary access to transportation, water supply and fertile soils, making them prime agricultural lands.

Over the past many years, humans have altered river courses by over-engineering, pollution, abstraction of resources and ineffective management. Rivers have been treated as sewers carrying waste and drainage away from the urban environment.

The Western Kenya tourism circuit has significant potential that is yet to be tapped into including nature and wildlife tourism.

Sand mining and river dredging activities, particularly with the use of heavy earth-moving machines severely disturbs the local ecosystems.

The impact is the loss of habitat for vegetation, invertebrates, fishes, turtles, crocodilians, birds, and mammals that would naturally form part of the nature and wildlife tourism.

For instance, riverine waders and shorebirds that nest on sand bars, islands, and mid-channel sand-spits such as the Skimmer birds, River Tern, Black-bellied Tern, Small Pratincole, and River Lapwing may be affected by sand mining.

Even low levels of sand mining can result in irreversible damage to nests thereby exposing them to other predators. Sand-nesting birds often use depressions at the bases of dunes or those near riparian plants for laying their eggs.

Fishing and aquaculture activities are the dominant economic activities within the Lake Victoria region. The presence of Lake Victoria alone indicates the upward economic potential of fishing and fish farming.

Major rivers like Sondu-Miriu, Nyando, River Kuja, River Migori, River Awach, and River Yala are equally good fish breeding grounds.

Many river fish species like Alestes, black bass, mud fish actively choose and guard spawning sites, which are linked to their preferences for coarse substrates ranging from boulder crevices to gravel and sand.

Sand mining and dredging can cause mass mortality of young fish, which cannot escape due to physical constraints. This means the loss or shrinking of breeding sites, loss of food and ultimately changes in fish populations and community composition.

Aquatic plants too are susceptible to increases in turbidity, changes in temperature, and oxygen availability in the water column following sand mining and river dredging.

BIODIVERSITY LOSS

Nema must employ a cost-benefit analysis approach to determining the external costs of biodiversity loss from such development projects and impose a cost on the activities that cause adverse impacts to biodiversity.

There must be regular project monitoring and evaluations by both Nema and the developers to ensure there is no deviation from the project plan and environmental conditions set.

Sand mining should be done in a way that limits environmental damage during exploitation and restores the land after mining operations are completed.

Mining companies must be focused on determining, monitoring and reducing negative environmental impacts of their mining activities and also on finding and applying solutions for various risks, such as those associated with climate change.

Panya is a lecturer and researcher at Jomo Kenyatta University (JKUAT)