The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has raised a red flag on illegal sand trade in rivers across Kitui County citing extensive environmental degradation and depletion of water resources.
The illegal sand harvesting has worsened water scarcity in the arid county forcing thousands of households to trek for tens of kilometres in search of the precious commodity, essential in fighting COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking in Kitui on Thursday, the County NEMA Director Njoki Mukiri said that they were aware of the ongoing sand trade despite a ban imposed by the County Government in 2018.
Mukiri said the County Environmental Committee will stop sand harvesting in a bid to find a long lasting solution to make it sustainable.
“We have noted that several riverbeds have been degraded and left bare. Urgent and radical measures must be undertaken to protect the natural resources as per national sand harvesting regulations,” said Mukiri.
This comes on the backdrop of protest by residents of Nduumoni and Kwa Masesi in Kitui Central over illegal sand harvesting in Tiva River which they say has threatened the ecosystem and their only source of water.
The irate locals claimed cartels were conniving with some families to conduct the illegal sand trade thereby causing environmental degradation and a serious decline in water levels.
A resident Patrick Ndolo said the unbridled sand mining had led to extensive degradation of the riverbed on which the community depends for water for both domestic use and irrigation farming.
“The riverbed has become bare due to the uncontrolled sand harvesting. It is mostly rocky and the future of thousands who solely get water here is at risk since water levels are declining by the day,” rued Ndolo.
They asked the authorities including the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the County Government of Kitui to strictly enforce the existing ban on sand trade besides ensuring that the culprits are punished.
Danlewis Mbula lamented that the ongoing environmental degradation characterized by uncontrolled sand harvesting has led to the collapse of several rivers in Kitui and has continued to pose major threats to the ecosystem of the county.
“Despite the county government of Kitui having banned sand harvesting, the illegal business is still going on. We blame the county government. Pollution of the river bed has reached unprecedented levels,” said Mbula.
John Muthui said that Tiva River has been invaded by illegal sand harvesters, who have destroyed it to an extent of leaving behind deep ditches which are dangerous for the people living nearby.
According to Kathunge Mboya, the quick cash earned for loading trucks with sand has attracted many youths into the area with 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.
Kathunge disclosed that youths, who once engaged in irrigation farming along the river, have been rendered jobless adding that some have resorted to petty theft.