RETIRED President of Zanzibar Dr Ali Mohamed Shein inspects to see the extent of environmental ruining caused by illegal sand mining in various areas of Zanzibar. The Islands are now faced with a shortage of sand.
LAST week Police spokesperson for Urban-West Region or Zanzibar City convened a press meeting to confirm that a young man had been shot dead by security officers following a dispute over sand.
The death sparked widespread condemnation along with debate on the future of the natural resource widely used for construction purposes.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Awadhi Juma Haji informed journalists that following the incident four security officers from the special department of Zanzibar and three forest guards were arrested in connection with the death of Said Salum Suleiman, 32, for illegally mining sand.
“Investigations are underway as we hold seven people including soldiers from Zanzibar’s special department linked to the death of the young man,” said Haji dismissing as false speculations in the social media that the killing was political because the deceased was a members and leader of opposition party – ACT Wazalendo.
Zanzibar authorities declared the archipelago was short of sand and imposed restrictions on its mining, collecting or transporting. Any business of sand requires a permit, and in enforcing the regulations the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural resources has been using its forest guards and forces from the special department.
They patrol and have arrested young people who for years were relying on illegal mining of sand to sell to the growing construction industry. The arrested youth are usually fined or imprisoned and their properties including trucks confiscated.
Operating under the Department of Forestry and Non-Renewable Natural Resources (DFNR), several times the sand officers issuing permits are alleged to be corrupt and that probably explain why the newly appointed Minister responsible for the Natural Resources Dr Soud Nahoda dissolved the section on the first day he entered the office.
Before last week fatal shooting, also in response to the ongoing illegal mining of sand in various areas of Zanzibar, leaders at community level were asked to act tough on the culprits by making sure they are arrested and their digging properties confiscated.
Community leaders (Shehas) and councillors were told that it is high time they acted tougher against illegal sand mining which is happening on water sources and water paths leading to floods and huge ground holes.
After inspecting various ruined areas, Captain Silima Hajji- District Commissioner (DC) for Unguja West ‘B’ district and officers from DFNR, said at different occasions that concerted efforts were required to curb illegal sand mining activities.
“We are now facing floods along roads, water sources, electricity power poles, and residential areas, caused by the illegal sand mining leaving huge potholes on earth. We ask Shehas and Councillors to arrest them,” Haji emphasized.
“Our land experts have proved that sand reckless sand quarrying or digging contributes to floods in many areas,” said the Director for West ‘B’ Municipal Council, Mr Ali Abdalla Natepe. The booming construction industry which include roads and mushrooming of buildings in Zanzibar have in recent years led to a boundless demand for sand, as one of the core resources required.
According to environmentalists the illegal and unregulated mining of sand has a major detrimental impact on land, and the authorities have been prompted to ban unauthorized sand mining and also regulate sand business.
The growing construction industry [hundreds of buildings raised as tourist hotels, light industries, new public offices, residential houses, business centres, and other investments projects] fuelled by population growth and demand for housing has also been a blessing to unemployed youth who mine sand to make money to feed their families.
Government and private companies as main investors with huge projects, and youth as small traders, seem to compete in sand excavation for construction, the practice currently blamed for environmental degradation including leaving behind potholes.
It is estimated that 60 pe rcent of the sand has been used in manufacturing ‘building blocks,’ while 40 percent used in other construction activities which requires sand and that sixty percent of the Zanzibar Islands will be urban by 2035, requiring an estimated 8.3 Million tonnes of sand, already unavailable.
Researchers say a booming construction industry has been good for the islands economy including employing more than 15,000 youth who dig the sand and sell at construction sites in various areas.
Although the environmentalists warned some years ago about risks of running out of sand, it was only until recently when authorities here announced the critical shortage followed by restricting digging and use of sand after several studies proved scarcity.
Environmentalists had in several occasions also cautioned that the islands would face critical shortage of sand in future due to reckless digging, and lack of implementation of urban and rural development master plan.
Sand digging restriction measures began by ensuring that all people in the business register and get license to operate; trucks for carrying sand must be registered; and sand digging and transportation only be allowed during Day time, between (7.00 am and 4.00 pm, local time).
Key alternatives include ‘importing sand from mainland or abroad,’ ‘turning to hydraform building system,’ ‘construction of storeys instead of small houses,’ ‘use of bamboo wood to construct houses,’ and ‘enforcement of master plan and laws.’
Zanzibar requires more that 1.8 million tonnes of sand annually for its booming construction industry. Researchers indicate that sand from about 522 hectares on Unguja and 150 hectares in Pemba has been dug and used in the past decade leaving huge effects on environment including death and diseases.
Some youths like Mr Omar Hassan, say that lack of employment drove them to the sand mining work as one of the ways to earn money and feed our families, “I think the government or local authorities have to find way of ensuring all youths get employed to minimize sand crisis.”
According to environmentalists, Mauritius and Seychelles have abolished use of sand in construction work, while China and Dubai are being built by imported sand from abroad.