The Sabaki river, comprised of sand banks, mud banks, dunes and freshwater pools, is Kenya’s second-longest river. With such a vast area, much of the local wildlife are being affected by various environmental challenges in this region. Specifically, the birds of the Sabaki River are fighting for their survival as illegal sand harvesters continue to threaten their natural habitat. Home to bird species such as the Madagascar Pratincole Glareola ocularis, the Sooty Gull Larus hemprichii, and the Lesser Crested Tern Thalasseus bengalensis, these birds are in dire threat due to the continued extraction and destruction on the Sabaki River.
Illegal Sand Harvesting
Sand harvesting is the practice of mining to extract sand through open pits, beaches, inland dunes and dredging from ocean and river beds. Used for a variety of materials such as concrete for roads, this resource continues to be in high demand.
Unfortunately, illegal sand harvesting is widely unknown by the general public, and for those that are impacted, it proves to be a very serious problem. With the increase of urban development, more countries are relying on sand to keep up with the construction demand, causing the rise in illegal operations fighting for top dollar.
Over the last 5 years, the illegal harvesting industry has continued to boom and Kenya’s activities contribute to the 200 billion global environmental crime challenge. With rivers being one of the last inland water sources, the destruction, erosion and long term affect of harvesting in arid areas can have a major impact on the long term sustainability of the area.
Impact of Sand Harvesting
Common in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid areas, sand harvesting impacts a variety of aspects in the region, including water depletion catchment areas, the drying of aquifers, and riverbank erosion. Causing not only the wildlife to find alternative water sources, but it also affects many farmers in the region due to uncontrolled flood waters sweeping away their crops. In addition to crops, natural vegetation is impacted causing the bird population to suffer from a lack of natural food and sustainability. Government officials recently told IRIN that the impact of sand harvesting along the river banks, the biggest source of income for many of the area’s residents, risk displacing over 7,000 people due to floods and erosion.
Actions To Stop Illegal Sand Harvesting
Recently, AVAAZ has launched a petition, urging President Uhuru Kenyatta to save the river by stopping illegal sand harvesting poachers. With 237 current supporters of the petition, many Kenyans are getting behind this initiative to preserve one of their national treasures. The AVVAZ is not the only organization concerned with the long term impact of sand harvesting in Kenya. The Darwin Initiative Organization introduced a River Sabaki Estuary Management Plan in 2009, outlining the general management recommendations to reduce the overall impact of the region. The original plan was designed through the end of 2015, with the anticipation of a newly formed management plan starting in 2016. Another contributor in the war is the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). NEMA issued restoration orders in several sites and prosecuted a number of illegal sand harvesters. County Environment Officer Isaac Kimitei, reported, “In last year for example, we had two cases where one sand scooper was buried alive in Kangundo and other two in Masinga.” Clearly indicating the risk of not only the region but the workers and people impacted by this operation.