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Sand mining will continue to relocate families in Sierra Leone

By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya

The community is quietly busy and most family heads are full with activities in relocating their homes while some carpenters are busy removing the rooftops of buildings for relocation to other environmentally friendly settlements.

With a distance of about ten miles and approximately (16km) from the heart of the capital city of Freetown in the deep west, here lies the Lakka community hosting more than four thousand people. This community can no longer accommodate the people living along the beach because of the indiscriminate sand mining here. Within the Lakka settlement, there is the sugar Land community, the Bololo community, and the destroyed YMCA environment. More than 70 heavy duty trucks visit the Bololo community to collect sand, with each coming more than seven times during the day depending on the demand of sand for construction works.

Standard Times Environment Reporter, IShmael Kindama Dumbuya standing in front of one of the colarpse buildings at the LAkka Community

The more sand is tipped in this community, the greater it affects other communities within and causes environmental destruction to settlements.

Previously, sand mining licenses were issued by the Ministry of Lands Country Planning and the Environment but the Local Government Act of 2004 has now delegated the licenses to the Western Area Rural District Council (WARDC). The WARDC gives out licenses and clearances to sand miners on a daily basis but it fails to put regulations in place to ensure the environment is protected in these communities. All problems that occur in the sand mining communities are not treated and solved by the Western Area Rural District Council neither the communities, but the blame apportioned to the Central Government for not taking action.

Under the functions of the Local Councils, section 20 subsection 2 (d) of the Local Government Act of 2004 allows the Local Councils to ‘be responsible for the development, improvement and management of human settlements and the environment in the locality;’. But some of the councillors are not au fait with this provision. The Chairman for the Western Area Rural District Council, Alhassan Cole said the WARDC only has the responsibility of collecting dues and giving clearances to sand miners and not that of protecting the environment. He said, “Protecting the environment is the responsibility of the Ministry of Lands Country Planning and the Environment and the newly formed Environment Protection Agency”.

The beaches are owned by the government of Sierra Leone thereby making the sand public property, and this has led to the mad rush for sand. There is presently a policy on the use of Sierra Leone’s natural resources but there is no specific policy on the use of the sand at the country’s natural beaches. Few years ago, the UK donor agency the Department for International Development (DFID) spent over $120,000 for a policy on sand and aggregate mining in Sierra Leone.

Lakka village was once a touristic community in the 1990s. Foreign tourists including some Sierra Leonean natives constructed their houses here in other to get a taste of the beautiful attraction of the beaches. But these houses can no longer be seen except for the broken and extinct walls which can only be spotted upon careful look inside the waters. A look around the beach, the only destruction one can see is the broken houses and old walls left by residents after the destruction caused by sand mining. Big trees that used to protect the environment and give out carbon dioxide for man as well as Coconut trees and palm trees are not spared here. They have all been cut down.

Because of this continuous destruction of houses and lands being overcome by the sand, many people have relocated. Investigations within the community confirmed that Families such as the Fawaz – the owners of the Fawaz building materials, Resca Crowen Family, the Yazbeck family, Edward Kargbo family, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs to name a few have all been affected by the destruction at the Lakka community. Most of these families sold their lands and properties after suspecting that there was a problem. Ahmad Saad was one of the owners of houses at the Lakka Beach but after suspecting that there is looming destruction coming in the community, he sold the house to the Yazbeck Family who are presently battling to amend cracks in the walls of their house and fence. A member of the Yazbeck family cannot be traced for comment but a security worker at the home said “this house may likely face destruction in the shortest time if people do not stop to mine the sand at the Bololo community”. He added with optimism that the Yazbeck family house is going to fall very soon despite all the huge amount of money they are spending to protect the fence from falling.

In other to protect the wall, some house owners are implementing new ideas in creating stone walls. To be candid enough, these walls constructed through big piles of stones cannot prevent the houses and fences from collapse due to nature, especially when the sand is being taken away on a hourly basis in the community.

Resca Crowen was also living at the community but he was forced to migrate to another location soon after his house was destroyed by water two years ago. The place where his house was located is no more, only clean rocks and old cement pillars with water clapping high from all angles can be seen here. If one attempts to touch the remains of the house, that person will definitely drown.

The Headman for the Lakka Village Community, Teddy Macauley said houses fall down in the community on a regular basis. He told Standard Times Environment that uncontrolled sand mining is causing the destruction of many houses in their community. He said “if you want to prove me right, go and come here after one week and you will tell the rest of the situation here”. Mr. Macauley wants government to put stringent measures to protect their environment. “I want the government or any authority to put laws in place or enforce laws to stop or minimize sand mining in the community” he said.

The Village Headman wants sand mining to be done at Hamilton or other areas around the Peninsular which are not strategically attractive to tourists and huge population in the city. If such is not done, Mr. Macauley also suggests rotational sand mining of four months or less done at Lakka and the rest in other sand mining areas so that the sand will be allowed to patch-up.

The houses some of the evacuators left fell after they left, and those left to watch over the houses are trapped with the destruction. James Williams will never have anything good to say about the sand destruction in the community. Recently, a heavy wall fell on his right foot whilst carrying out cleaning exercises at the compound owned by one of the evacuators.

Madam Hana Moseray who stayed and secures the compound of Mr. Saad is also not giving a good account of the sand mining in the community. She said “the beach is destroyed because of the constant sand mining undertaken here”. She accuses the Chairman of the Western Area Rural District Council, Mr. Alhansan Cole of constantly engaging in selling the sand to builders without a break for an hour. She noted that “many times Mr. Cole has been warned to stop selling the sand in order to protect the community, but he continues not to listen”. Because of the less attention given by the Sierra Leone government to protect the community by putting regulations on sand mining, Madam Hana has already given up hope, saying “I am tired of this”.

Recently in this village, the government of Sierra Leone National Environment Protection Agency (EPASL) visited the community in order to advise community representatives about the environment for peaceful living. The EPA-SL Environment Officer attached at the Information Education and Communication department, Madam Fatmata Bakarr Sesay, has predicted more disasters waiting for the Lakka community and other sand mining communities. She told Standard Times Environment that “if proper actions are not taken to discourage or minimize sand mining, there will be more disasters in the communities”. She confirmed a belief people already hold for the community and said “the community will be lost in the near future if no steps are taken”.

Sand contributes about 99% to the housing and road construction in Sierra Leone. It is needed at all times for various types of construction works in the country, but the only thing needed is to set rules and regulation plus enforcement in order to protect the environment and communities around the beaches where sand mining is presently going on. If such is not done, there will be more relocation of communities at the Lakka villages.

This report is copyrighted and supported through the assistance of Standard Times Environment, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA-SL) and the Sierra Leone Environment Journalists Association (SLEJA)

 

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