Gold, sand mining activities raise environmental concerns in Ankole

Rwampara District leaders and locals during physical verification of the impact of sand mining in the area. PHOTO | ZADOCK AMANYISA

What you need to know:

  • According to the residents, the mining sector is wreaking havoc and causing more harm than good thus frustrating environmental protection efforts.

Residents and leaders in the districts of Sheema, Buhweju and Rwampara in Ankole sub-region, have raised concerns over the way their environment is being degraded by gold and sand miners.

According to the residents, the mining sector is wreaking havoc and causing more harm than good thus frustrating environmental protection efforts.

The districts of Sheema and Rwampara are endowed with alluvial depositions that contain sand, which is highly sought after in the construction industry, while Buhweju is endowed with gold deposits. Sand deposits exist largely in areas of Ngoma in Sheema, Rugando, Kinoni and Nyeihanga in Rwampara District.

Communities in these districts have not profited from the sand trade, save for the casual jobs, which fetch them just survival money.

In the villages of Karora and Ngoma in Rugando and Kinoni town council, Rwampara District, the wetlands surrounding River Rwizi have been massively encroached on by miners thus causing the river to burst its banks and destroy people’s crops and homes on several occasions.

“It was found out that where we are supposed to have artisanal mining of sand, we have businessmen who have come in and they are trying to mine this sand using excavators. They are devoid of any environmental understanding. There is a lot of environmental degradation,” said Mr Julius Tusiime Karuhanga, the Rwampara East MP.

Mr Karuhanga on Tuesday led a team of the district’s top leadership for physical verification of the impact of sand mining following concerns that were raised by the community.

The team observed that the sand mining activities in the area were also destroying the local access roads making them impassable whereby heavy trucks that have a high axel tonnage have broken down all the culverts.

The team also observed that the mining companies, most of which are not licensed, have concentrated on getting sand without backfilling the pits where sand is mined, leaving communities at risk of related challenges like accidents for both humans and animals.

In Sheema District, residents have raised a red flag over the sand mining activities in Ngoma and Kihunda which are River Rwizi catchment areas amidst pressing demand for sand, which is partly attributed to the booming urbanization in the area.

According to Prof Meshack Katusiimeh, a resident of Ngoma, sand mining entrepreneurs are tapping into the vast reserves of sand, exploiting a sector which is largely unregulated. He says people posing as sand mining investors have formed local cartel networks causing insecurity in the area in addition to causing harm to the environment.

“Government oversight has been inadequate. Despite national and local governments being aware of the problem, common approaches to solving it are lacking. Regulating the industry has also been complex, as shown by the lack of coordinated government responses,” he reacted.

The Sheema Municipal Mayor, Mr Abel Kahara told the Monitor that while the local people are right to raise concerns, it is also their duty to protect the environment because environmental protection is not one-sided.

“Government plays an oversight role but people must be at the centre because they are the ones that give their land for mining because the land is private. Let them be in charge,” he said.

In Buhweju District where gold mining has been ongoing since the 1950s, the environment remains hurt amidst efforts to restore the damaged areas of Kibimba, Bitsya, Bihanga, Bushozi, Nyakishana and others according to the RDC, Mr Nicolas Nuwagira.

 “Like in other areas, gold mining has left more harm here because it is taking place in wetlands and causing an impact on the entire ecosystem and the surrounding community whose water sources have been contaminated,” he said

Mr Lauben Tindiwabo, a resident of Nyakishana Sub County, who has been in artisanal mining for 20 years says they (miners) are aware of environmental concerns and they have played a role in its restoration, though they face challenges.

“Sometimes you restore and tomorrow you are told there is more gold. To be sincere with you, we look at money first and sometimes we are not bothered by the impact until the government comes in to force us out,” he revealed.

For the good of the environment for today and in the future, Mr Kahara, the Sheema municipal mayor said that they will intensify sensitization efforts in communities telling the locals that keeping the environment safe and protected is their role.