Illegally mined stones and Murram quarries in Western Kenya have left locals scratching their heads due to an increase in Malaria infections and risks of drowning they pose to locals, especially children.
In Maraka village in Bungoma County, for instance, residents have to live with the reality of some roads being impassible after trucks belonging to the miners damaged and failed to repair them. These companies reportedly have links to government officials who often silence anyone who tries to raise a voice.
In the said village, a story is told of the disappearance of a man (name withheld), who complained to local authorities about how a foreign construction company is bribing leaders at the expense of locals who have to deal with the problem of deep trenches left after their activity.”They once came to my piece of land and skimmed through. I turned down the offer when I learned they wanted to turn my small land into a quarry,” said Everlyne Naliaka a resident of Kakamega County.
Miss Naliaka is now part of a movement helping with rehabilitation and careful planning to ensure that the abandoned quarries in the Lurambi sub-county in Kakamega are functionally rehabilitated.
“There is a need for such quarries to be covered after construction work as this poses a great danger to the society at large, especially during rainy days,” she said.
The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) notes that quarries for Stone mining and Murram extraction have become rampant in most parts of Kenya due to the rapid development of infrastructure that has increased demand for the raw materials.
NEMA Director Mamo B. Mamo argues that everyone has to ensure quarries are not a threat to the existence of human beings. “When quarries are no longer needed, they should not be left open as they are. Their rehabilitation is essential and can assist in the recovery of these areas,” Mamo poised.
Laxity by government officials
Asked whether the office is aware of the hazards that such sites pose, an official (who requested anonymity) at the office of Public Works in the Kakamega said the matter would be solved fairly considering the development projects that have occurred after devolution took shape in 2013.
Oftentimes, locals are lured to sign agreements allowing the harvesting of stones and Murram in their farms. This is normally executed with the help of local chiefs. The chiefs are alleged to be colluding with company officials to convince naive residents. Little attention is usually given to the negative effects of their intentions.
“We have complained to the area member of county assembly (MCA) how our children are contracting Malaria to no success,” says Joseph Angaya, a resident of Shieywe village in Kakamega county.
At Bukura health center, the number of malaria cases between June and December 2020 has doubled due to the rains that have been pounding the area.
While there is no report to link the stagnant waters and bushy areas at the isolated quarries to the rise in Malaria cases, the majority of the cases were noted in people neighboring abandoned quarries.
Aware of the threats that the quarries are posing, a group of students from Bukura Agricultural College in Kakamega is on a mission to ensure quarries within the region are covered.
The students’ morale was boosted by this year’s Agriculture project requirement by the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) that every candidate prepares a seedbed of 200 seedlings. They can choose from four broad categories of trees; those that produce fodder, timber, poles, and fix nitrogen in the soil.
For instance, Jared Kakumi, an agriculture teacher who partnered with the students from Bukura Agricultural College, has planted close to 5000 tree seedlings in the abandoned quarries in the vicinity since the beginning of 2020. The trees were bought from form four students at Inaya secondary school.
“It is a common belief that abandoned quarries have a severe impact on the natural environment and can damage the environmental balance (natural relief, water resources, soil, flora, and fauna), we want to get rid of that mentality, “he said.
Their action was informed by an incident where six children almost drowned in a quarry along Matioli area. The quarry had been left bare by a construction company that the county of Kakamega had tasked to fix the Sigalagala-Butere highway.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Dr. Chris Kiptoo said the government plan is to plant 2 billion trees by 2022 and that such efforts would be achieved through combined efforts by the public.
“We want to support nurseries through private sector engagement. We want to have a donor and private sector conference where we will get pledges and commitment to buy the seeds,” Dr. Kiptoo said.
Environmental experts suggest that the gradual restoration of abandoned sites through local interventions can contribute to the amelioration of the environmental quality into the surroundings of the cities and towns and can be included in the regional development planning.
The production of this story was supported by the Earth Journalism Network