BY INNOCENT KIIZA
Robert Masereka, 28, and his colleagues wake up every morning to mine sand form the banks of river Nyamwamba in Kasese town where they earn a living and sustain their families.
He revealed that a trip of sand costs between 40,000 and 50,000 thousand shillings depending on the size of the vehicle to be loaded, however little do they know that their activity is putting the lives of over 1 million people who directly depend on the river for their lives as the river is now changing its course and the volumes of the waters are dramatically reducing.
According to the report produced by the Kasese district natural resources office most of the sand that is used for construction work in Kasese is being mined from the banks of the river and the river is changing its course and partly that accounts for the recent floods that hit the town in May.
A study that was conducted by World Wide Fund in may three years back indicates that river Nyamwamba is also facing the risk of drying up if local authorizes don’t come up with measures of controlling the increasing human activities being carried along the river banks.
River Nyamwamba is the only source of water for the people of Kasese town and some people carry out farming on a small scale in parts of Nyamwamba division in Kasese municipality.
The report has suggested that specific river stretches should be identified and trees planted along some stretches to cover the bare riverbed which has been exposed by the illegal sand mining so that the requisite safeguard measures can be implemented and monitored by the municipal council authorities. It also said that “The depth of mining may be restricted to 3m/water level.” And it should be carried out 300 meters away from the river bed.
“The proponent should also prepare a mine plan which should be duly approved by the municipal council and the district natural resources officer,” the report suggested among other things.
The report has said that in-stream sand mining should be avoided, but if it is to be permitted then the district natural resources officer should first study its impact.
It reiterates that prior environmental clearance is mandatory from the ministry, irrespective of the area. It also says that a cumulative 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 out 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.
It also suggests that an annual replenishment study should be conducted, and in case “the replenishment is low the mining activity production levels shall accordingly be decreased/stopped.”
The kasese municipal council environmental officer Evelyn Muhindo in 2015 had banned sand mining or removal of sand from river beds without environmental clearance from his office.
“Besides violations of law, the mining activity is being carried out on a large scale, causing the river to change its course and it may eventually dry because we have observed that the volumes of water are decreasing and some of the courses are sand mining, farming along the river banks and some people have grown trees that are not recommended along the river,” said the evelyn Muhindo kasese municipal council environment officer.
Augustine Kole the kasese district environment officer says illegal sand mining along the river bed of Nyamwamba has diverse effects on the surrounding surface and groundwater if protective measures are not taken.
The bridge that connects Nyakasanga word to Rukooki along the Kasese- Fort Portal high way is also at risk of collapsing as it has been weakened by the people who are mining sand under it.
“We have on several occasions warned the people to stop mining sand near the bridge and we have also engaged them in series of meetings sensitizing them about the dangers but they cannot stop,” said Kole
Some people because of covide-19 they have restored to mining since most were laid off their jobs. He says that it is the municipal council that is supposed to authorize sand miners by issuing out permits but people have gone ahead to illegally mind sand from the river bed.
“We have never issued an permit to anybody to mine sand along the river but Am surprised that sand mining business is booming along the river and when we go there at arrest the people involved in the business they run,” said Kole
He says that partly the problem also accounts for the floods, that when the water volumes increase during rainy season the river banks cannot accommodate them so they farce their way through going to people’s house.
The sand is mined on the stretch of the river from Nyakasanga to Kanyangaya parishes in Nyamwamba municipality which is close to five kilometers of the river according to Godfrey Kabyanga the Kasese municipality mayor.
Kabyanga says that council has from long time been chasing away people from form mining the sand along the river banks but people
He said on August 21, 2013 that council passed a resolution to chase all the sand miners along the river banks and advised them to look for an alternative but they have not adhered.
“They are doing it illegally but we have instructed our law enforcers to keep patrolling the area because we know the part of the river were sand is mined so we shall arrest them,” said Kabyanga.