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Excessive Sand Harvesting In Nigeria Raises Concern

posted 23 Apr 2013, 06:32 by Mpelembe   [ updated 23 Apr 2013, 06:33 ]

The sand industry is a competitive and lucrative business in Nigeria due to a boom in housing and road construction as cities like Lagos undergo structural transformation. However, environmentalists warn that continuous and unregulated sand mining will lead to irreversible environmental damage.

LAGOSNIGERIA  (REUTERS) - Artisanal sand miners dive deep into water of the rivers in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos to extract construction grade sand that they can sell.

Rising demand for the commodity due to increasing housing and road projects has made the activity lucrative across the country.

One of the most popular mining spots is Makoko river, named after the floating slum on the murky lagoon that separates mainland Nigeria from the island.

Sand harvesting has been practiced in the area since the 1960s, and has become a livelihood for thousands of people who dredge out tonnes of sand everyday.

Oluwafemi Omowunmi has been a sand harvester for 15 years. A quick income for the the 38-year-old after he was unable to finish high school due to lack of fees.

"This business sustains us, it is very profitable, we use it to take care of ourselves and our families," he said, adding that filling up a canoe with sand takes about an hour.

"We charge 2,000 naira (13 US dollars) for one boat, but for our consistent customers we sell it for between 1,800 or 1,500 (11 to 9 US dollars) on the days we are not busy. Sometimes we receive many orders, occasionally a customer can ask for 10 boats of sand, we calculate the amount of profit we will make and if the job has a time limit, we call other harvesters to help us so the work moves faster," said 35-year-old Tope Onokoya, a sand harvester.

Sand harvesting employs thousands of people through a managed supply chain.

The divers ensure they fill a canoe which transports the sand to the shore where it is offloaded into stock piles. Truck loaders then fill trucks that transport the sand to buyers. On a good day, lorry drivers supply more than ten consignments daily, each at a cost of about 64 US dollars.

"The main challenge is scarcity of sand, sometimes customers pay in advance before we deliver, when we cannot find sand to supply, they become very upset. There is less pressure if you first deliver the sand and then collect the money afterwards," said Abiodun Abdul-kareem, lorry driver.

Nigeria's Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources regulates sand dealings and dredging activities in the State, with the issuance of operational permits to people or corporations involved in the trade. Illegal mining however, is widespread.

Environmentalist Desmond Majekodunmi warns that excessive sand extraction can have far reaching environmental effects.

It can cause degradation of rivers and deepening of beds, which make it difficult for fishermen to catch fish or reduced fish-stocks due to change of habitat.

Majekodunmi says the depletion of sand also risks widening river mouths and coastal inlets, a problem compounded by the effect of rising sea levels, which could aggravate flooding, erosion and the loss of valuable riverbed species of trees.

"Dredging our rivers, our streams, our lakes and particularly our shoreline has been having a very very negative impact over the years. The reality is that Lagositself is very very vulnerable, because Lagos is in an area where a lot of our streams and rivers from up country end up with their waters. Lagos is an estuary, there's a lot of lagoons, so Lagos is surrounded by water and then on the coastal side, we have the ocean so that makes Lagos very very vulnerable to aberrant water activities and when you now start to disturb the beds of the rivers and streams, by removing tonnes and tonnes of sand from them, you are actually courting disaster," he said.

Authorities in Lagos say they are working on stringent laws that will curb unlawful sand harvesting and severely punish those caught operating illegally.