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Sand harvesting and trade gained popularity as a source of quick cash in Makueni and other arid and semi-arid areas that harbour high quality sand. With a rapidly growing construction industry in towns like Nairobi, Thika and Athi-river and the county’s proximity to these towns aided by the Nairobi Mombasa Highway increased sand harvesting from Makueni.
Unregulated sand harvesting results to reduced availability of water in riverbeds, drying of boreholes, increases soil erosion among other environmental issues. These, aggravated by effects of climate change, lead to reduction in agricultural productivity leading to loss of livelihoods.
Sand trade brought a myriad of social problems in Makueni including deaths resulting from conflicts, increased school dropout rates among the youth, deteriorating security and drug and substance abuse rose due to increased expendable income for young men.
In this wake, The Government of Makueni County banned the commercial harvesting of sand across the county through Gazette Notice No. 152 of December 2014. A taskforce was appointed to review sand harvesting and how the sand resource could be harnessed for socio-economic development. A key recommendation to enact a legislation to guide sand matters in the County was adopted and this led to the enactment of the Makueni County Sand Conservation and Utilization Act, 2015. The Act provides for the creation of the Makueni County Sand Conservation and Utilization Authority as the lead agency in sand matters in the County. The Authority is domiciled under the Department in-charge of environment Lands and Environment.
The purpose of the Act was to, inter alia, regulate and ensure sustainable conservation and utilization of sand and to provide for protection of the environment and equitable sharing of the accruing benefits.
The Authority consists of a Board responsible for governance and a secretariat headed by a Managing Director responsible for the day to day execution of the affairs of the Authority.
The Authority has constructed twenty one sand dams on various rivers across the county.
To conserve sand and ensure sustainable utilization and equitable sharing of benefit accruing from sand, the Authority has:
1. Carried out rigorous awareness creation on the importance of sand conservation and sustainable utilization
2. Enhanced enforcement to curb unregulated sand harvesting
3. Enhanced community participation through creation of sub county and ward sand management committees
Similarly, regulated sand harvesting has led to natural rejuvenation of rivers and streams without much investment infrastructure development. Additionally, other actors investing in sand dams’ construction have confidence that there will be sustainable utilization.