By Alex Baluku
Sand mining is the process of extracting sand from an open pit, sea beaches, rivers and ocean beds, river banks, deltas, or inland dunes.
The extracted sand can be used for various types of manufacturing, such as concrete used in the construction of buildings, plastering and other structures. The sand can also be used as an abrasive or can be mixed with salt and applied to icy roads to reduce the melting point of ice.
In Kasese, illegal sand mining has continued to thrive on major rivers including, Nyamwamba, Nyamugansana, River Rwembyo among others. This is attributed to the population growth and the rate of urbanization increase as the demand for sand needed in the construction sector has also increased around the Rwenzori Sub Region.
With this demand soaring, it is critical to highlight the threats and advance solutions to ensure that Kasese district which is grappling with the effects of climate change promote sustainable sand mining for the benefit of people, economies and ecosystems. Concerns are growing about the impact of sand mining on River Nyamwamba and to the people of Kasese and the ecosystem that depend on this river.
Brian Masereka, 19, and Innocent Balungi, 23, all secondary school dropouts together with their colleagues wake up every morning and head to Kanyangeya to mine sand from the River banks of Nyamwamba where they earn a living.
Speaking to this online, Masereka and Balungi revealed that a trip of sand costs between shillings 15,000 and 20,000 little did they know that their activity was putting the lives of many who directly depend on River in danger.
In a survey conducted by this reporter, it was found out that due to sand mining activity, the River is now changing its course and the volumes of the water are dramatically reducing posing a threat to the people living around the Nyamwamba Valley.
Rabson Kakule, a casual labourer at the sand mining site on River Nyamwamba in Kanyangeya Ward of Nyamwamba Division, says sand mining is his only source of income.
“I have done this job for several years and it is where I get money to sustain my family. I did not go to school and I don’t have any other job,” he says.
According to a study that was conducted by World Wide Fund-WWF in May four years back, indicates that River Nyamwamba was also facing the risk of drying up if the district authorities don’t come up with curtailing measures of controlling the increasing human activities being carried along the river banks.
The report suggested that the district and municipal leadership should prepare a mine plan which should be duly approved by the municipal and district resources officer. It also suggested that the in-stream sand mining should be avoided, but if it is permitted then the district natural resources officer should first study its impact.
The report reiterates that prior environmental clearance is mandatory from the ministry irrespective of the area. It also says that accumulative impact of sand mining in the area needs to be looked at. “the cumulative impact study should emphasize on pollution load due to transportation, available infrastructure for transportation, details of transportation of mined sand as per the law because we have established that some parts of the river beds have been used as washing bays for long vehicles,” the report says.
The Kasese Municipal Senior Environment Officer, Evelyn Muhindo Mugume, in 2015 banned sand mining or removal of sand from the river beds of River Nyamwamba without environmental clearance. But up to now the same activity is still thriving.
Asked why the ban has failed to be implemented, Mugume said that whereas they have tried to curb the illegal activity, it has continued to thrive as an income generating activity to the community because the development industry still needs sand.
She also said that they have not been able to gazette an area to be specifically for sand mining and they have not been able to enforce the issue of non-mining of sand which are not gazetted considering that they are limited on ground.
The Senior Environmental Officer says it is not easy for her to monitor the un-informal sector where she is not always present.
She says that the people who participate in sand mining do not have major associations that bring them together which makes it hard for her office to round the perpetuators, and because of that they have not been able to succeed in curbing sand mining in un-gazetted areas on the river.
The Kasese District LCV Chairperson, Elphazi Muhindi Bukombi has since in strong terms condemned the mining of sand from the major rivers across the district saying the activity was illegal and that it is degrading the environment, wetlands that are sources of water for residents and destroying the habitats of aquatic animals.
Muhindi said that as district, they will identify specific river stretches and plant trees on there to cover the river beds which has been exposed by the illegal sand mining so that the requisite measures can be implemented and monitored by the district authorities. He also called on sand miners to restrict the activity to 300 meters away from the river bed.
EFFECTS OF SAND MINING
Sand Mining Causes Erosion
Unregulated mining of large volumes of sand along rivers leads to their erosion and shrinking of river banks. It also destabilizes the ground and causes the failure of bridges, channels, and roads.
Sand Mining Harms Local Wildlife
Rivers are home to a variety of species like crabs, snails, and turtles. When sand is mined on the river banks it disturbs the wildlife living in the river ecosystem. Unfortunately, despite efforts made to conserve the species, illegal sand mining has destroyed the much-needed sandbanks in their habitat. The species is now nearly extinct.
Sand Mining Destroys Aquatic Ecosystems
The ill effects of sand mining on wildlife are not confined to rivers, but also include underwater ecosystems. When sand is mined from river beds, it can create turbidity in the water. The machines and human disturbance induced by such processes can also adversely impact aquatic wildlife.
The turbidity can create a barrier that prevents sunlight from entering the water, which is harmful to corals in seas that need sunlight.
Fish may also die-off due to a lack of food and oxygen in the turbid waters. Thus, the entire aquatic system may fail due to sand mining. The fishing industry that is dependent on such waters will also suffer great economic losses.
Sand Mining Makes Areas More Prone to Flooding
River banks act as barriers to flooding. When sand mining removes such barriers, areas near the river become more prone to flooding. As a result, communities in areas subjected to indiscriminate sand mining are thus more vulnerable to the forces of nature.
In 2021, the government of Uganda considered gazetting sand and murram as minerals following an upsurge in commercial mining activities across the country. On Tuesday of December 2021, the State Minister for Minerals Peter Lokeris and Agness Alaba, the commissioner Department of Mines tabled the Mining and Minerals Bill of 2021 to Parliament’s Natural Resource Committee for scrutiny.
The dictate intends to reapeal the mining Act of 2003 which experts and local leaders have all pinpointed as the mother of all problems as the mining and minerals sector.
“Sometimes there are these mining substances like sand, marrum as we shall see. How do we regulate these? “When we say that sand is a mineral we are not backed by the constitution,” Lokeris explained.
According to Article 244 (3) of Uganda Constitution, murram, sand or stones used for building are not subject to mining laws and regulations. However, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral development wants this changed by enacting clause 122 (2&4).