Sand mining an environmental hazard in the northBy: PAULUS ASHIPALA
UNCONTROLLED quarrying of gravel and sand for road construction and brick-making in the North has left the environment scarred by large open pits that pose a danger to people and animals.
Companies appear to be under no obligation to rehabilitate the area after mining the sand.
The environmentally unfriendly practice has now caught the attention of the newly appointed environmental commissioner in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Teofilus Nghitila.
When asked about the sand mining, Nghitila said it would no longer be “business as usual” for those who excavate sand while disregarding the damage caused to the environment.
The culprits range from small brick-makers to SMEs and large construction companies.
According to Nghitila, they will face the wrath of the Environmental Management Act that came into force recently.
Nghitila said those who mine sand and carry out quarrying without the required licence would be stopped in their tracks.
The operators will be given 12 months to obtain an environmental clearance certificate (ECC) if they wish to continue.
The ECCs will only be approved by the newly established Environmental Commission on condition that there is an approved environmental management plan in line with the provisions of the Act.
“These pits are a nuisance and a big environmental hazard. They are currently candidates for the top priorities that the office of the environmental commissioner is going to address urgently,” Nghitila said.
Nghitila said when he visited the Omusati Region recently, the regional council also expressed concern about the pits and his office will soon put a stop to the practice and implement “corrective measures”.
The pits are not only confined to the Omusati Region, but are scattered all over other regions such as Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Oshana and the north-eastern part of the country.
Nghitila said while it is “undeniably true” that developments such as road building cannot be stopped, companies cannot be allowed to carry on with impunity.
“These companies will have to be licensed to carry out these activities and have a plan with conditions attached, it cannot just be allowed to go uncontrolled.”
According to Nghitila his office is recruiting environmental officers who would carry out inspections.
Nghitila said pits dug near villages and towns are now being used as dumping sites, causing further environmental damage.
“Road construction would have to go on, yes quarrying would have to continue, sand mining will be there, but this should be done with minimal impact on the environment.”
The Omusati Chief Regional Officer, Amutenya Protasius Andowa, said the regional council has had consultations with road construction companies in an effort to protect the environment, but the initiative only brought conflict.
“For the SMEs it is big a problem, because if you tell them to stop they will start saying that you are jealous of them and if you stop them you have to give them another area where they can excavate the sand,” he said.
Andowa said another issue compounding matters is that construction companies ignore local or regional councils, as the land where they mine the sand is under the jurisdiction of traditional authorities.
“Our hands are tied because the areas are in a communal area,” Andowa said.
He cited examples of dangerous pits on the roadside between Outapi and Ruacana, Outapi and Ombathi, Outapi and Ogongo and Omakange and Iitananga.
“When these companies take the sand they leave the responsibility with the regional council to rehabilitate these pits and the council does not have the money. But when they tender they include the cost of sand, which they get virtually for free,” he said.
“And yet people are left with pits that are an environmental hazard.”
Andowa dismissed the assertion that the pits could be useful for water storage or fish farming.
“This is just an excuse because they are not located at places were they are needed and normally for aquaculture you don’t need such deep pits,” he said.