Villagers' sad tales of quarries nightmare

By PHILIP MWAKIO

A blast pierces the air, sending everyone scampering for safety. Before the noise dies down another deafening explosion rents the air.

The villagers here live as though they are in wartime and are oblivious of when the next "attack" may occur.

But the explosions have nothing to do with war, they come from stone quarries in the neighbourhood.

Residents of Kaliangombe village in Rabai, Kilifi District, have had to contend with heavy explosions every day for over five decades now.

Each time an alarm goes off, the villagers, including students at two nearby schools, take cover.

A loud bang follows as dust is blown all over for close to ten minutes.

Sometimes successive blasts occur, causing tremors.

"The kind of explosives being used are very strong and should not be used here," says John Kasidi, a resident.

Mishi Mwinga points at a crack on the wall of her house at Rabai, Kilifi District. [PICTURE: OMONDI ONYANGO]

Houses collapsing

Several houses have cracks and owners have to repair them from time to time or risk their houses collapsing.

"Friends who visited us during the December holiday scampered for safety when a huge blast occurred," says Kasidi.

Two schools located near the mines have equally borne the brunt of the explosions. An entire classroom block at Kaliangombe Primary School, a public primary, has been abandoned.

A teacher at the school, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the Press, said the classrooms were abandoned because authorities feared for the safety of the pupils.

"Huge boulders would fly on top of the roof and we decided to take precaution," said the teacher.

A pupil at the school, Ramadhan Malanga, 14, says the ground often shakes during blasting. Suffering a similar fate is Rabai Secondary School, built with funds from the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) kitty.

Here, teachers and students have had to operate in dusty conditions. The management has also been forced to spend some of the money meant for running school programmes to repair cracks, which occur frequently.

At the home of Mama Mishi Mwinga, about 600 metres from the mines, the intensity of the blasts is evident from the huge cracks on the walls of her house.

"We have adopted a hide and seek approach here. Each time the alarm goes off, even our poultry and the few livestock we own flee the homestead," she said.

She points to a group of her grandchildren who suffer from skin diseases and have white spots on their hair.

For Mwabaya Baya, another resident, the thought of quarries within his neighbourhood evokes sad memories.

Contracted TB

He contracted tuberculosis and had to undergo strenuous treatment, which depleted his meagre earnings.

"The investors are only keen on making profits and are expanding their businesses. But we shall not move out as this is our ancestral land," he says.

Ramadhan Malanga examines the head of his brother Salim Hassan. Many children suffer from skin diseases. [PICTURE: OMONDI ONYANGO]

Standing in his neat compound, next to Rabai Primary School, a dejected Gideon Salim shows us cracks on the wall of his four-room house.

"For how long shall we be subjected to this kind of treatment?" poses Salim.

Sadness written all over his face, retired security guard Japhet Tsuma stares into the horizon in deep thought. Tsuma, 66, is facing eviction after one of his relatives allegedly sold off the family farm to one of the quarry investors.

Already several acres of palm trees have been felled to pave way for excavation.

The village, with its sparse population, has been transformed from a lush forest to a rocky field.

Once rich farmlands have been abandoned while some villagers have moved out after paltry compensations by the investors. Some of the abandoned quarries are filled with water, which the locals use for domestic purposes.

However, danger lurks in the quarries as many have drowned in them.

The area, largely referred to as Kokotoni (literally meaning the place of small stones), has the largest concentration of quarries along the lower coastal belt.

National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) Acting Provincial Director Ali Mwanzei said some of the quarries flout rules by using illegal machines.

"Nema insists that all quarrying and mining activities adhere to the principles of sustainable environmental management practices," he says.

Acceptable standards

The quarries are expected to apply for licences for noise and excessive vibrations as well as ensure that decommissioned quarries are restored to acceptable standards.

Should the finding of a task force report on quarry mining in Kenya, sanctioned by the Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, be adopted fully, residents of Kaliangombe could heave a sigh of relief.

The report provides best options on how quarries will conduct their businesses.

A manager at one of the quarries, who declined to be named, claimed mining at the village started more than 55 years ago and is licensed by the Government.

"We have all the relevant licences. I do not understand where the problem is," he said. Officials from Mines and Geology Department could not be reached for comment.

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