In a gazette notice dated 16 January 2018, Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu banned the sale and transport of charcoal and sand in her county. “Due to the public outcry over the unsustainable exploitation of the natural resources in the County of Kitui, it is notified to the public that with immediate effect the governor has banned the transportation and sale of charcoal and sand outside the geographical boundaries of the county of Kitui and revoked all licenses, permits and any other documentation.
To many, the ban has been long overdue, with the effects of the sand harvesting and charcoal burning, having had Kitui residents by the neck for a while. “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, one of the thousands of people affected by sand harvesting activities in Eastern Kenya.
Ideally, burning charcoal and harvesting sand is legal, however, the National Environment Management Agency (NEMA) has to do an assessment and give approval before any activity is undertaken.
In the case of sand harvesting, NEMA issues an environmental impact assessment license but few go for it and this is where the danger lies. “It’s unfortunate that some of these sand dealers are engaged in illegal sand harvesting despite the many awareness campaigns we have conducted,” says Titus a NEMA official.
Unsustainable sand harvesting degrades riverbanks, lowers river lines and escalates conflict in communities between locals and sand loaders-who have been accused of drunkenness and engaging in crime.
A Kenyatta University research done by Wambua Mumbi Patricia, on the environmental and social impact of sand harvesting on the community in river Kivou catchment, Mwingi sub-county, Kitui County shows that the rivers are on the verge of drying up with destroyed banks and drained water points.
Nonetheless, the negative effects of sand harvesting go beyond what we can see i.e. loss of vegetation and topsoil. It can cause drying of underground riverbeds and aquifers, additionally, excessive removal of the sand bed more than the river can replenish weakens bridge support potentially causing collapse.
Excessive sand harvesting changes the ecosystem of rivers thus affecting aquatic life-this happens when certain soil minerals (which have a chemical effect on water) underneath the gravel are exposed to water after the sand is harvested.
As a result, NEMA created a Sand Harvesting Guideline, which designates harvesting sites, access roads to the sites, sets a maximum depth for harvesting, prohibits harvesting on riverbanks-to avoid river widening, employment of miners as loaders and demands an environmental impact assessment before harvesting begins, among other things.
The ban by Governor Ngilu should surely go a long way in ensuring that Kitui County remains sustainable even in its quest for development and becoming a hub for investment. Ensuring that the county’s resources benefit several generations to come.