The Effects of sand mining in Lwera, Uganda

The Lake Victoria Basin is endowed with alluvial depositions that contain sand, which is highly sought by the construction industry.

The deposits of sand in the basin are deeper in the west, especially around Lwera and Bukatata. It is therefore not surprising that out of all permitted sand mining projects, over 80% of them are based in the west of the Lake Victoria basin, wholly in Lwera.

In Lwera, commercial sand mines are recent, and their emergence over the years is wholly attributed to a growing demand for clean sand. The situation now contrasts the olden days when sand was mined using local tools, such as, hoes and spades. During that time, large scale mining in Uganda was limited to Bukakata, in the 1960s, where sand was mined to support glass making by the East African Glass Works Limited.

With mining comes impacts, and Lwera has not been spared. A traditional fishing village, Kamaliba, which is surrounded by three mining companies, has been ravaged by the activities of these miners. The village has lost shelter, toilets, access roads, recreation land and land for cultivation, as some of the developers have expanded their mines beyond the permitted boundaries.

Further, land which was originally used for grazing and cultivation has been reduced to pits and ponds that are a threat to humans and cattle, let alone being unsuitable for cultivation.

Communities have not benefitted from the trade, save for the casual jobs, which fetch them just enough money to survive. There is also a danger of silicosis, a disease associated with the inhalation of silica dust.

The activity has a hidden impact on the roads sector, which is rarely discussed. It is important to note that heavy tracks ferrying sand damage roads and hence increase the cost of maintenance of these roads. To understand the viability of the sub-sector and guide on its taxation, it is recommended that this impact is accounted for.

In addition, the narrow highways used by the heavy trucks carrying sand become deathtraps because the trucks are slow moving and the roads are bad in places.

Given that sand mining fragments the landscape, the tendency is for this to impact habitat continuity, and dispersal of seeds and organisms.

The open pits resulting from sand mining are a habitat for disease carrying vectors, such as mosquitoes. They are also habitats for invasive aquatic plants like the water hyacinth and Kariba weed. The former plagued Lake Victoria almost two decades ago, and was contained, but its re-emergence in areas close to the lake is worrying. The latter is a fast growing plant, known to double in volume every 2-3 days. Its thick mat (~10-20 cm thick) over water, and therefore has the ability to lower light penetration and reduces gas exchange between the water and atmosphere above. The overall effect of both these is to deoxygenate the water. But also, the short life cycle of Kariba weed means it contributes large masses of organic matter, which, in turn, result in a further reduction in oxygen as more of it is demanded to drive the decomposition process. Because of this, it is a threat to the fishing industry. Moreover, the foul smell associated with its decomposition deters any recreation activities wherever it establishes.

Recommendations:

Sand should be listed among other minerals of commercial value so that access to it is controlled and the revenues accruing from its exploitation managed as is the case with other minerals.

Sand deposits should be characterized and mapped so that the potential to support all known applications is known. This will also ensure user rights are allocated meaningfully.

Sand mining should be subjected to full EIA, and the process of permitting should involve a committee drawn from relevant ministries, departments and agencies.

It is important that miners are conditioned to deposit performance bonds because this compels them to rehabilitate mined areas.

Note: This information is summarized, extremely simplified and abridged from the Paper; Social-economic and environmental dimensions of sand mining in Lwera, Uganda; written by Jerome S. Lugumira, Godwin Kamugisha, Sarah Naigaga, Bridget Nakyanzi & Naome Karekaho. The Paper is available in the NEMA Library