A mining craze in Homa Bay County, Kenya, is causing massive destruction of the ground, experts have warned.
Reports indicate that private firms are indiscriminately excavating the soil in scrabble for precious minerals believed to be available beneath the earth’s surface.
Over the past two months, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has been engaged in legal battles with individuals accused of running companies said to be violating environmental laws.
The miners are also threatening the lives of community members around mining sites.
The ground in some parts of Homa Bay is believed to be having large deposits of minerals like iron ore and gold
The environment watch god is accusing investors of impunity when digging up the ground to get the minerals for sale.
In July, NEMA closed down dangerous mining sites in Rachuonyo South sub-county over safety concerns.
Quarry operators who were looking for iron ore and gold also failed to get approval from other relevant government authorities including the State Department of Mining.
At least seven people were arrested, charged with different offences and fined up to Sh 100,000 for operating illegal mines.
But less than a month later, another mining site in Rangwe Sub-county was opened.
It was exposing community members in Genga Location to great danger.
An investor alleged to be mining gold is accused of putting the lives of the people around the site at stake by blasting the ground using explosives.
Nema has no record of the mining site.
Many others are being opened meaning most sites could be operating illegally.
“We are soon taking action against the person operating the mine in Rangwe. We have received complains from people living around the site that he is causing a lot of noise and other forms of pollution,” Homa Bay County NEMA Director Josiah Nyandoro said.
Community members in Genga location had to petition the Ministry of Interior, NEMA, and the county government of Homa Bay to address the problem.
The project drew protests from residents who said rock blasting that is mainly used at the site affects children and the elderly.
Rang’i Primary School Board of Management (BOM) Chairman Peter Oguta said the lives of pupils at the school are at risk as pellets from the quarry are likely to hit and kill or cause critical injury.
“The site is located about 300 meters from the school. It has no signs that it is a dangerous zone with flying objects. Pits excavated on the ground can also kill animals if they fall on them,” he said.
Senior citizens and people suffering from heart conditions are also at risk of being affected by the loud blasts.
Mr Ogutu said the noise caused by explosives can easily cause a heart attack.
“Elders have complained of developing health complications when the rocks are blasted. It is unfortunate that no warning is issued. We only hear the loud blast,” he added.
Besides health being at stake, the blast is said to be causing destruction of property.
Mr Peter Owino, a resident, said rocks from the mining site had shattered windows and destroyed roofs.
According to residents, no one was told about the exact activity that was to take place at the site when miners first began soil excavation two months ago.
Mr Owino said residents thought that a firm operating the site wanted to excavate marrum.
“We thought they wanted the top soil for construction. We got concerned when they started using explosives which are mainly used in rock blasting. When the ground vibrates, our house becomes weak,” he said.
According to NEMA, for a mining site to be operated, firms are required to apply for a license from the agency and other government institutions.
For this case, NEMA should issue an environmental impact assessment license.
Mr Nyandoro said the company should also apply for a noise permit from the agency that costs Sh 5500 and is used for 90 days.
“Vibration permit gives permission to miners on where blasting should be done. Members of the public should be informed about the noise,” he said.
But before the licenses are issued, investors are required to conduct public participation with community members who will be affected by the project.
Mr Nyandoro accused investors in the county of impunity when mining as the agency is never involved in the initial stages before excavation starts.
“Section 9 part 2 of the Environmental Management and Coordination Act puts NEMA in charge of supervising and coordinating all lead agencies on matters environment. Everyone who wants to engage in mining, be it sand harvesting, must apply for an environmental impact assessment which I sign,” the NEMA director said.
He assured members of the public that the agency will endeavor to ensure county residents get a clean and healthy environment as enshrined in the constitution including controlling sand mining that is a thorny issue in Rachuonyo North, Mbita and Suba.
In these areas, residents have scooped sand from the ground and exposed the foundation of utility lines and houses.
Pits left in sand mines have led to death of animals and children as environmentalists call for sustainable mining.
Mr Willis Omullo, the chairman of Aluora Makare, a CBO in Rachuonyo North said failure by the community to take action now will lead to negative impact in the future.
“Some of the areas where sand has been excavated cannot support agriculture. This leaves such grounds useless. It is a threat to food security,” he said.