Ever-escalating illegal sand mining operations which have been largely ignored over the years could soon become a thing of the past as government has warned that offenders would face the consequences of their actions.
Sand mining is only allowed after the issuance of an environmental clearance certificate, but due to the lucrative nature of the business and growth in the construction industry, which it supplies with sand, many people are just extracting sand illegally without considering the impact on the environment.
In an interview with New Era yesterday, the Environmental Commissioner, Teofilius Nghitila, said it is an extreme environmental problem for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, particularly in the north, central and north-eastern areas of Namibia.
He said the environment and tourism ministry has informed the police to enforce the Environmental Management Act of 2007, as sand mining is a listed activity which should not be carried out without a clearance certificate.
Further, Nghitila warned that anyone found mining sand without a clearance certificate would face the full wrath of the law.
“They will be arrested and have to pay a fine of N$500 000 or face five years in prison, or both. The law is very clear on that. If you are in breach of the Environmental Management Act, the law is not lenient at all. It is not a small fine. We expect every business person undertaking sand mining to be in possession of an environmental clearance certificate obtained from our office and with my signature. Failure to do that, you are conducting that activity illegally and will have to face the music.”
According to him, the ministry has done a lot of awareness-raising through the media and traditional and local authorities so that the activity gets reported, yet the situation “is getting extremely bad, which is deteriorating the landscape”.
“When you drive in the north, all you see are massive excavations – these pits. People are just indiscriminately mining sand for businesses such as brick-making and construction. We’ve warned them. I was even on Oshiwambo radio at the beginning of this year. We informed traditional and local authorities on the enforcement of the Environmental Management Act,” he noted.
Nghitila said the pits pose a risk to people, animals and biodiversity, besides other environmental implications.
“In fact, when it rains some community members cannot locate the path to their homestead. You know our people when they come from social places – getting to their homestead is another challenge. If you have these pits and they are covered by water, then people may fall into them and be seriously injured or die,” he said.
He said the ministry is busy seriously engaging traditional leaders and regional councillors to ensure no one is allowed to mine sand in an area unless he or she has a clearance certificate.
“A letter from the headman is secondary. The headman will only be able to give permission once the person has a clearance certificate. It is not business as usual where they go to the owner of the field and give the headman a few hundred dollars and start mining. No, it doesn’t work like that. If they are not coming forward we are going to them. We have our environmental officers in place and I will send them there (north). We will go with the police and arrest them. Failure to produce a clearance certificate, they have to explain to the magistrate and not to us.”
He however said that no person has yet been arrested in connection with illegal sand mining. The ministry has so far this financial year issued five compliance orders to companies that were in direct contravention of the Environmental Management Act of 2007. They were operating without environmental clearance certificates.
The non-compliant companies were La Mer, the developers of the Swakopmund Waterfront; Sand Works; MTB Bricks and Sand; Kunene Building Supplies and Fkarstens. The latter two were quarrying illegally south of Windhoek.
Sand mining does not only involve the mere extraction of sand but affects plants and micro-organisms, which play a big role in ecological balance.