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Locals protest against mass sand harvesting in the Lake Victoria

By Mactilda Mbenywe | January 1st 2019
A machine used to harvest sand at Karabondi beach in Karachuonyo, Homa Bay County. The machine has the capacity to harvest 80 tonnes of sand every day. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Residents of Karachuonyo have protested against a project that will see massive sand harvesting from the shores of Lake Victoria.

They said the project by Hapex Building and Construction Company will destroy the environment and affect fishing, a key economic activity in the region.

The residents accused the company of invading beaches and harvesting sand without caring how its activities would affect them.

The protests came a week after the company installed a Sh2.5 million machine with the capacity to scoop up 84 tonnes of sand a day.

The protesters said they were angered by the investor's admission that he did not carry out environmental assessment before embarking on the project.

The residents accused the company, said to be linked to a France-based firm known as Insomania, of acting with impunity.

They said they wanted the company's activities stopped to allow for environmental impact assessment. 

"With time, we will understand if the project has positive or negative effects on the people and the environment. For now we cannot tell,” said the site manager, Victor Owuo.

Environmentalists have projected that there will be no fish at the affected beaches - Rambira, Nyakwere and Karabondi - within one year if the company is allowed to continue with its activities.

Samson Okumu, an environmental researcher with Euro-Africa Gender Research Agency, said the project would interfere with fish breeding grounds and destroy their eggs.

"Sand harvesting will also create deep valleys in the lake which are hazardous to boats during landing and might cause deaths to people and animals," said Mr Okumu.

He added: "This project will destroy the ecosystem and aquatic life, rendering fishermen and fish traders vulnerable to poverty."

Zachary Oluoch, a fisherman, said the project had already started interfering with activities.

He said the community was contemplating moving to court to stop the company from harvesting sand from the lake.

Breeding grounds

Mr Oluoch said the company's activities had started destroying fish breeding grounds.

He claimed the fisheries department had written to the firm ordering it to stop sand harvesting, but the notice had been ignored.

"The project is not helping residents. Sand harvesting is weakening the nearby ground, which is likely to collapse. In this case, residents will lose their land," said Oluoch.

The company was allegedly enjoying the support of an official of the National Environment Management Authority (Nema).

Another resident, Justus Odundo, said the project had not provided any employment to the youth, as promised.

He accused the company of failing to carry out an environmental impact assessment before starting its activities.

"We demand that the firm immediately stop harvesting sand on the shores of the lake," said Mr Odundo. 

A month ago, Odundo said, a stakeholders' meeting was held and residents were asked to vote in support of or against the project. He said only 22 members of the community voted in favour of the project against 8,000 who rejected it.

On November 22, Euro-Africa Gender Research Agency, on behalf of the community, wrote to the Ministry of Environment asking it to stop the project. 

The letter copied to the Cabinet secretaries of Interior, and Water and Irrigation, and the director-general of Nema indicated that the firm planned to harvest sand 100 metres into the water and another 100 metres offshore.

Nema has issued guidelines to ensure sustainable utilisation of the sand resource and proper management of the environment. The guidelines take into consideration social and environmental interests. 

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