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Raging sand storms threaten to bury Mambrui from face of Earth

By | Oct 27th 2010 | 4 min read

By Patrick Beja

Salim Ramadhan stands besides the ruins of the village dispensary where he worked 50 years ago, then shakes his head in resignation.

"We tried to reinforce the foundation of this building but it did not work. My wish is to conserve it and see it operate, but we have been forced to move the dispensary to a safer place," he says sadly.

Obviously, Ramadhan has deep attachment to the dispensary that opened in 1957.

"I was a trusted shop assistant in Malindi town but the urge to serve my people better was overwhelming. I quit the job, went for a medical course at Kilifi District Hospital and returned to the village to serve as a medical officer," he recalls.

But the original dispensary building, like many others in the ancient village of Mambrui, has been destroyed by sand dunes over the years, as people watched helplessly.

According to villagers, two rows of houses have been destroyed by the advancing sand dunes, and locals fear the village might disappear in the next few decades.

Some houses have been buried up to window level and the door openings filled with sand.

Some of the villagers claimed the sand dunes have forced walls of some of the houses to crack due to the pressure from sand from the adjacent clean beach.

A village elder, Salim Duhmu said an ancient market near the beach was among the structures buried by sand many years ago, adding that sea water was also reclaiming land, threatening the existence of Mambrui.

Natural forces

Village elder Salim Ramadhan (right), and Salim Duhmu explain the threats posed by sand dunes on the local population. They fear the entire village could be buried. [PHOTOS: MAARUFU MOHAMED/STANDARD]

"We want Government to intervene by constructing a sea wall to check the sea water because we are being pulled away from the beach line by the natural forces," Duhmu said.

The worried villagers showed mountains of sand dunes and their effects on 200-year-old Qubaa mosque and the Mambrui Primary and Secondary schools.

"We embarked on tree planting about 20 years ago to protect the village from the adverse effects of dunes which threatened to bury our homes. Somehow this has reduced the impact but we feel there is still a big threat which could see us displaced in the future," said Duhmu.

The residents raised fears at a time when Kenyan and Chinese archaeologists are digging up artefacts in the village of about 4000 people to determine its history and ancient trade links.

Archaeologists believe Mambrui had a suitable seaport and could have hosted the Malindi kingdom, making it the oldest town on the coast of East Africa.

The experts are currently doing analytical study of artefacts and other items collected from the Mambrui settlement excavation last August, but they indicate the settlement could be older by between 200 to 250 years than the settlement’s estimated age.

According to Coast National Museums of Kenya (NMK) Assistant Director Athman Hussein, the recent excavation in Mambrui has revealed interesting preliminary findings, and a similar exercise is planned near a mosque beside the beach next March.

The targeted site is believed to be the oldest part of the Mambrui settlement that could yield the most interesting details in the archaeological study.

Meanwhile, the archaeological excavations at Mambrui have not gone without controversy.

More than 600 residents staged a demonstration urging NMK and the Chinese archaeologists to stop the exercise at the ancient settlement that doubles as a cemetery.

The fear was that the experts could be opening up graves and collecting the remains of their ancestors for the study on the settlement, which NMK denied but vacated the site to avoid more controversy.

Heavy Siltation

On the raging sand storms that threaten the village, Hussein explained that they stemmed from the heavy siltation by the nearby River Sabaki.

He observed that once the river deposited sand at its mouth, it is pushed to the beach and blown off to towards the village, forming the dunes.

"The dunes built up from sand originating from River Sabaki. It is good that villagers have planted trees to shield their homes," Hussein said, but warned constructing a sea wall might not stop the natural forces from the village. He added tree cover formed a better barrier.

Hussein noted similar sand dunes have built up at Shella on Lamu Island over the years following siltation of the River Tana.

He explained that when River Tana empties at Kipini, sand is carried all the way to Sheilla beach where it is blown towards Lamu Island where the dunes are located.

Houses built close to the dunes at Shella, he said, face the same challenge of being covered by sand and owners have to physically remove the powder.

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