Consolata Achieng’s home hangs dangerously in Asieko village in Nakuru. It was not always like this. Sand harvesting in the Ndarugu quarry has dredged all the soil around her piece of land.
She cannot control it because the owners of the plots surrounding hers sold the sand voluntarily.
All that Achieng’ is now left to do is to constantly watch over the children, cows and goats to keep them from the edges of the land, so that they do not fall into the dugouts which are now up to 30 metres deep.
She also has to look for alternative routes in and out of her home. She lives in a constant nightmare that one day, a landslide will occur and sweep away her land, which has been rendered weak by the wanton mining that has led to the interference of the land topology.
Achieng, who has lived here for more than eight years, is not the only one going through this.
Her neighbours in Kaptembwa and Barut areas have to put up with these fears.
Villages such as Asieko in Kaptembwa and Kimolwet in Barut have no road access and getting home after the day’s hustle is almost impossible.
“When I first visited this place, we were assured that sand harvesting had been stopped and that we would be safe. We bought the land and settled but every day my children and I get worried seeing that some people are still flocking in with lorries to harvest more sand,” she says.
Ms Achieng notes that the entire land around her has since been sold off and that those who live in plots like hers have been left with no choice but to watch over themselves, their children and their animals.
“A lot of people live around here and even though we know the dangers of soil erosion, we have nowhere else to go. This is the place we call home,” she adds.
Asieko village is situated between River Ndarugu and Ndarugu quarry, making it very difficult for residents to access markets, shopping centres, hospitals and schools.
Another resident, Ms Jane Akinyi, says the only shorter way through for the brave is to climb the huge heaps of debris and go down the steep valleys in the quarry to get to the other side of the village.
Shorter, unsafe route
“The route is considered shorter but it is not safe at all. One can easily fall, get bitten by a snake or be robbed off by thugs,” she says, adding that majority of the people, especially women, prefer the long way which is almost five kilometres to the tarmac.
Part of Asieko village has no electricity due to difficulties in erecting poles. At night, the tiny village goes into darkness.
In Kimolwet village in Barut, also in Nakuru Town West, residents are grappling with fear as a nearby sand mine edges closer to their homesteads.
The quarries, some of which are owned by some top government officials, are spread across the village.
Ms Prisca Chepkemoi is among residents who have lived in the area for a long time, having been there for 15 years now. She is among dozens of families that have moved their homes to higher ground to escape the death traps.
Barut quarry is active with activities running day and night. Although a section of the residents willingly sold out part of their land to pave way for the quarry, the bubbly activities area slowly displacing them.
“A lot of activities like detonation of mines and sand are done at night, creating huge cracks on our houses and on the farms. This means the houses can easily break down and cause deaths,” Ms Chepkemoi notes.
Mr Dancan Kilimo says they have complained several times to the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), the county government and the local administration but no step has ever been taken to stop the menace.
Mr Kilomo’s land, where he once grew maize and vegetables, has since been wasted away due to erosion caused by the quarrying activities.
“Before this excavation came into our area, my plot was so big that I could engage in various forms of farming. However, I now remain with a small portion of my once big land,” he adds.
The residents say that the activities have claimed tens of lives with a number of locals being buried alive in the quarry.
“Some would slip into the ditches while others were buried alive while digging out sand. Among the dead are our own sons and daughters whom we looked up to,” narrates the devastated father of four.
“For the period I have been in this village, I have seen many sand harvesters, drunkards and other individuals die in this quarry,” he adds.
While she showed us her house that hangs on the edges of the quarry, Ms Monica Chelagat is another overwhelmed resident who has since abandoned her home and moved to a neighbouring village.
“I was forced to abandon my house as every time I was in that house I felt uncomfortable; I feared it would collapse any time,” she states.
The residents have blamed the local authorities and the politicians for encouraging the quarry activities without minding about their safety.
No action from Nema
“We have [tried to have] churches and schools help us reach out to Nema because they are also affected but there has been no success. Politicians have been our biggest challenge as they keep allowing sand harvesters into the quarry during campaign periods. At times we doubt the capacity of Nema to formulate policies,” Ms Chelagat laments, adding that the safety of school children remains the greatest fear for parents since the pupils pass through a route that borders the quarry to access their schools.
The residents have accused the quarry operators of being rude to them whenever they raise the complaints.
Nema’s National Sand Harvesting Guidelines of 2007 state that there should be sustainable utilisation of the sand resource and proper management of the environment.
“The guidelines have made considerations for social and environmental interests. Various committees have also been established for both technical advisory and administrative purposes as detailed in the Guidelines,” reads the guidelines.
However, an officer at Nema’s office in Nakuru told the Nation that all the complaints raised by the residents are still allegations until they are officially reported.
The officers said they are no recent complaints recorded with them although Nema is aware of the ongoing quarry activities in the said areas.
“Nema has always acted, with urgency, on all complaints raised. Unless these people report to us, we may not be in a position to know that they are having issues,” the officer stated.