Activists are up in arms at the unsustainable sand mining taking place on the Western Area Peninsula, Sierra Leone.
Chinese and Senegalese construction companies have joined the truck drivers on the beaches in their search for white sand to sell on. The continuous mining has driven away tourists, residents and business owners alike, damaging local ecosystems and well as endangering future livelihoods.
Pa. Santigie Kargbo, a truck driver at the Goderich sand-truck told This is Sierra Leone: "We are doing this because the government has put a ban on taking sand in Lakka. We have to go far away to John Obay and other beaches because we want to make money."
Unsustainable Sand Mining
In July last year, the National Diagnostic Analysis workshop for Sierra Leone identified the need to regulate sand mining in a group focussing on a 10 year plan for the country: "Sand mining: formation of a safeguard policy and regulatory system, identify and establish suitable sites for extraction / mining of sand in conformity with an Environmental Impact Assessment" (EIA).
EIA licences must be acquired according to the Environment Protection Act of 2008, though this has not been the case for certain outside companies in recent years. Despite warning letters from regulatory body and environmental watchdog Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone, the Senegalese CSE construction company have been awarded a contract to clear a large area of the Peninsular Forest Reserve for road access to the sand.
The Western Area Rural District Council were ordered by the government to allow construction companies to collect the sand without any disturbances. Local communities are protesting this decision, with one of the affected villages - Baw-Baw - recently speaking out.
Village head Mr. Gibrilla Kargbo stated: "We will not allow any company to take sand in our community, not even CSE. We are looking out for a better future for ourselves and our children."
Baw-Baw were also told that they would be paid for allowing the trucks to pass through and collect sand, though so far this has not been fulfilled.
Madam Jane Gbandewa, a self described eco-warrior and director of local business Tito's Paradise Eco Lodge, is another resident affected by the mining at Big-Wata beach. She describes it as: "Terrible for the environment, but also for the local fishermen and new tourist business that have been developed on this beach over the last couple of years."
"Tito's Paradise Eco-Lodge is run as a communal venture, and the business pays for the schooling of all the secondary school boys who work down here. If this business is affected adversely, none of these boys would be able to continue with their education."
Though the mining provides an informal income to many men who would otherwise be unemployed, it has a massive impact on coastal erosion. Sierra Leone's coastline is eroding by up to 6 metres per year, most of which is sadly used to reconstruct roads and housing that have been destroyed by the sea. The coastline is being stripped of its primary defence.
Environment Officer for the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone Tamba Nyakeh said: "Sand mining if allowed in these beaches will have great impact and consequences for the communities around the beaches. The sea level will rise and this will destroy the natural beauty of the beaches and communities."
Though jobs may be created in the short term, the long-term damage done to Sierra Leone's coastline through unsustainable sand mining may be insurmountable.