The Impact of Sand Mining on the Environment and social cohesion in Western Gambia.

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By Abdoukarim Sanneh, London, United Kingdom

The Atlantic Coast Line of the Gambia along with the River Gambia and its tributaries, the Mangrove habitats and the Lowland fertile rice growing agro-ecological zones, function as vital ecosystem services for provisioning, regulating and cultural for people and communities in Western Gambia. With growing construction and demand of house building, we relies heavenly on sand and pebbles in building our houses and roads. The intensive urban development is contributing enormously to increasing demand on sand for building and construction.

Sand is valuable resource for construction and other purposes, however sand mining results in serious environmental problems such as land degradation, loss of agricultural/ horticultural lands and biodiversity, as well as increased poverty among people. Sand mining is a practice of extraction of sand from various environment such as beach, inland dunes, riverbed etc. Years ago, coast shoreline of Bijilo and Brufut and its unique sand dunes was the source of sand for our construction industry in the country. The process of years of sand extraction or sand mining has accelerated coastal environmental degradation in these areas at alarming rate until 1999, when government came with the decision to shift the sand mining to Sanyang and Kartong in Kombo South District.

Having been away from the Gambia for more than two decades, what I observed during my recent visits was that infrastructural development such as Kombo Coastal Road Project has led to rapid population growth and physical expansion in Greater Banjul, Northern, Southern, Central and Eastern Kombo due to the influx of people from different parts of the country. These in turn have exerted pressure on the needs for housing provision, in addition to other existing demand such as civil works, repairs etc. The increasing rate of urbanisation in the Gambia has brought with it several challenges ranging from physical, economic, social to environmental issues. To cater for our rapid urbanisation that comes with road and housing construction, the sand dunes in Bijilo and Brufut which are part of the beach system where destroyed and because of the impact of coastal erosion and destruction of beach infrastructures by strong waves or floods that become a problem, sand Milling was moved from Bijilo/Brufut to Kartong and Sanyang.

The inland sand deposit in both Sanyang and Kartong are lateritic in nature and when such comes under immense pressure due to human activities as extraction of sand is disastrous. Rapid urbanisation is a major cause for sand demand and is responsible for unsustainable extraction of inland sand mining. From Kartong demonstration that led to arrested of 45 people and Faraba demonstration that led to death of three people, it is about time Gambia Government comes with what political ecologist called Access Theory in community resource management and natural resource governance. Community rights to benefit sharing and the relation and processes that enable various actors to derive benefits from resources. In both Kartong and Faraba the interaction between mining operators, citizens-neighbours and government authorities and law enforcement agencies is confrontational. These conflicts have centred on environmental and social issues such as noise, truck traffic, dust, stream-water quality, reclamation, biodegradation, pollution and visually unpleasant landscapes.

Inland sand mining has an impact on biodiversity and habitat, deforestation of the land with the consequent elimination of the vegetation, pollution of the land, hydrology, air and even noise. Because of these impacts, local communities are the one that tend to bear the negative impacts of sand mining be it social, economic or environmental. It is therefore important for the government to make efforts to stem these problems through informed decision-making.

The application of geographical information system could play an important part in informed decision making about inland sand mining in the country. The availability of spatial information or spatial data prior to an area allocated for sand mining, during and after sand mining is essential to address activities of inland sand mining and their impact on the environment. Geographic information systems are important tools in environment and development decision making concerning natural resource extraction and utilisation. With site assessment and requirement for sand mining geographical information, system can play significant efforts in analysis or screening of potential sites, identifying and mapping the locations within all the regions in the country, monitor and control sand mining activities so that environmental degradation can be slowed down.

It is about time government of the Gambia comes with some form of informed inland sand mining decision-making and do away with unscientific sand mining operations that is causing severe land degradation and ecological imbalance. Sand mining in many places in Kombo can result in conflict pressure on land resources. Sand mining in most of the places from Bijilo Brufut, Sanyang, Batukokunku and Kartong have resulted in high level of environmental degradation. In all these places, mining did not benefit the communities but individual the damage stays with the communities when the mining operation close. Extraction of natural resource in communities should be the property rights of communities. In many parts of the world, natural resource management and utilisation is centred access theory, which give emphasis community rights to property management and benefit sharing. In our new democratic dispensation, there is a need to create awareness in this regard. Communities need awareness on how best to manage their land resources order to protect the land assets from depreciation and degradation. Environmental indicators need to put be put in place so that the set standards and regulations are enforced through monitoring and inspection.  Finally, The Government of the Gambia should establish synergy between various departments and institutions dealing with natural resource to enhance coordination, monitoring and regulation.

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  1. Mr. President, Hopelessness Breeds Despair and Violence

    The incident at Fababa Banta was unfortunate, but it uncovered an underlining frustration in the community, which reached a boiling point 2 weeks ago. The loss of young demonstrators, who had their whole lives ahead of them, was a tragedy for the country. I have mentioned this in my previous postings and will mention it again: create jobs for the citizens, especially the youth. Hopelessness engenders frustration, low self-esteem, envy, animus, and jealousy. The view of Julakay trucks carting away loads of sand, while having the minimum of contact with the locals, is not good business practice. Surely, Julakay Enterprises employs Gambians, but the majority of their employees should be locals living in Faraba Banta, Pirang, Dasilami, or nearby villages. Julakay should have relocated its office to Faraba Banta and employ as many locals as possible in the business enterprise. That gives the locals a stake in the survival of the business and a sense of belonging. People who have a sense of belonging will always defend their community against vandalism. Having your office in Lamin, and commuting to Faraba Banta, sows the seeds of anger towards Julakay Enterprise.

    The company has a responsibility toward the people of Faraba Banta, and that applies to every company and its place of business. The community within which a business operates in, is a stakeholder; therefore, the business owes it social obligations, like contributing to programmes that advance its development and wellbeing. It is irresponsible for a business to exploit the resources of the land and have no plans for its restoration. That may have worked during the days of the Kaninlai Butcher/Dictator; however, that kind of disregard for the environment will not be tolerated by an awakened New Gambian citizenry. In this age of smart phones, nothing goes unnoticed. The whole world saw the trucks hauling sand from the beach, after the initial confrontation between Julakay and the villagers. Obviously, someone posted the pictures online and on Facebook. That was the time the authorities should have intervened. Government intervention is “a day late and a dalasi short” for those who paid the ultimate price, their lives.

    To remedy the situation, Julakay should buy an insurance policy for land restoration, or have a contingency fund for it. Not all Insurance companies would be willing to sell such a policy, but some might. After all, insurance is about pooling resources and spreading the risks among policy holders. The Environment department should ensure the availability of the fund or Insurance policy. It is similar to the reserve ratio account commercial banks hold at the Central bank, in case they become insolvent. Leaving behind salt water ponds after mining only benefits the crocodiles, who use it as a hunting ground for prey, which could someday include humans. Companies engaged in mining, oil exploration, or harvesting timber should have contingency funds for land restoration. The departments of Geology, Environment, Physical Planning, Lands Office, and Energy should ensure the restoration of the land.

    Police should not have used live bullets to quell a demonstration. If teargas, tasers, batons fail, then shoot the demonstrators below the hip, to give them a fighting chance to survive. Police should be trained on how to control crowds; it is a fundamental function of a police force. If the police force of the 1960s had used live bullets to break up demonstrations, we may not be benefiting from the wisdom of Ambassador O.J. Sallah, or Koro Sallah–today. Likewise, the late Pengu George (aka Pinks) or late Alieu Kah (Texaco) could have died in the 1960s–and not during the 1981 coup attempt. Alieu Kah and Pengu George’s radical instincts resurfaced during the 1981 coup attempt. The government of the day offered the young people hope. The likes of Ambassador Sallah had scholarships to further their education abroad; he went on to serve, honourably, in the Foreign Ministry, and continues to do so. Meanwhile Alieu Kah and others chose the “Business route”. In either case, the government studied the grievance of the youth and addressed their concerns. A similar approach is needed in dealing with youth unemployment, grievance, and hopelessness.

    Mr. President, this is where you and your cabinet come in, to make a difference in the lives of ordinary Gambians, by creating jobs and offering hope to the unemployed. It is disheartening to graduate from high school and your only viable option to take care of yourself, let alone your parents, is to trek across the Sahara desert, to go to Europe. Being a leader of any group is a challenge–even more so–being a leader of a country of a diverse group of people. It has its benefits, like living in a 30 room mansion, by the beach in Banjul, rent free. It also has its challenges, like making tough decisions. Shakespeare said “uneasy lies the head, here is the crown”. In plain English, it means leadership is not meant for the faint of heart; it is meant for individuals who can make tough decisions and be very deliberately decisive. The citizens of a country condense tough decision making, in the power of the presidency. Can you imagine how chaotic it would be if every Gambian has the power to make important decisions for the country–that are binding; or in the case of China and India, which have more than a billion people, each?

    Mr. President, “hope springs eternal” but it seems to be in short supply in the Gambia. Only you and your government have the ability to reverse that trend. A growing population needs a growing job base. Population growth should move in tandem with job growth. Any imbalance between the two creates despondency and hopelessness. Use the International Donor Aid to create jobs, through low interest loans to businesses and entrepreneurs; build infrastructure, schools, hospitals, especially Vocational Training Schools, where students learn everyday skills. I can never over-emphasise the importance of Vocational Institutions in developing the technical expertise of a workforce. It is not an accident that Germany had the biggest economy in Europe, literally, a decade after its cities were bombed into the Stone Age, in particular Dresden. That was partly due to the strong “Teutonic” work ethic and the technical expertise of its citizens.

    Our neighbour, Senegal, also does a pretty good job when it comes to providing vocational training to her students. We can learn a lot from both countries. Provide seed money to entrepreneurs and startup companies. If Bill Gates’ father had not given him a $50, 000 seed money or initial investment to purchase QDOS from Seattle Computer Products, on July 22nd, 1981, we may not be benefiting from the Microsoft Windows applications we all enjoy today. Bills Gates’ father was a lawyer and mother was a banker, so they were able to provide the initial $50, 000 investment. It is one of the best Business decisions—in History! IBM’s complacency turned out to be a financial windfall for Bill Gates and made him a worldwide phenomenon. How about a Gambian student, who is a genius, in the mold of Bill Gates, whose parents don’t have a $50, 000 seed money? In comes the government to level the playing field for the poor Gambian student. That is what governments are for: providing opportunities for their citizens. It further underscores the importance of seed money or initial investment. Government should create a conducive environment for local startup businesses and industries, to thrive.

    It used to be that the richest people in the world were kings and queens. That reminds me of Alexander the Great (aka Julkarinen in Arabic) of the Greek/Macedon Empire, and Mansa Musa of the Mandingo Empire of Mali. Alexander the Great and Mansa Musa are the richest humans to have ever lived and walked on this planet. In today’s dollars, Mansa Musa would be worth about 400 billion U.S. dollars. The current richest man of the world is Jeff Bezos of Amazon Corporation, at 109 billion U.S. dollars and Bill Gates of Microsoft Corporation, at 92 billion U.S. dollars. Can someone forward the Mansa Musa story to the Kaninlai Butcher/Dictator in Equatorial Guinea, who castigated and derided the Mandingoes throughout his reign? We all knew that it was a cynical “divide and rule” tactic. Meanwhile, the richest families of the middle ages and the immediate past were the Banking family of the Medicis of Florence, Italy, a family that produced 4 Popes and 2 French Queens; the Banking family of Mayer Rothschilds of Frankfurt, whose sons settled in the major European cities of Paris, London, Vienna, and Naples, and expanded the business; or the Energy Titan John D. Rockefeller of New York.

    Today’s richest people come from the Technology World. They are the Jeff Bezos and the Bill Gates of the world. That makes it even more pertinent to establish Vocational Institutions, to train the future generations in the technical fields of coding, computer programming, or any field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Not every student can pursue an academic career; some are more suited for Vocational Schools, not college or university. Send your Secretaries of Finance/Economics, and Trade & Development to the developed world, to secure Joint Ventures or Franchises for Gambian Entrepreneurs. This is the surest and quickest way to acquire knowledge and Intellectual Property–legally. China has been doing it for decades, since she opened her doors to the world. We also see American Presidents, German Chancellors, or British Prime Ministers travelling to other countries, with company executives. During those trips, new business deals and contracts are signed.

    Whether you are a placeholder or just warming the chairs for Hon. Ousainou Darboe, as your critics labelled your recent reshuffling of the Cabinet–the bottom line is–you are the president–and the unemployed are hungry for jobs. We have been a pariah and benighted nation for 22 years–please change that trajectory of hopelessness. One of the main functions of a government is to provide jobs, hope, and a high standard of living for its citizens.

    Tumbul Trawally
    Seattle, USA
    206 225 9782

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