HARARE’s once scenic landscape is fast degenerating into unsightly craters and gullies, as sand poachers descend on the capital city.
The unregulated decimation by fly-by-night sand miners is happening in broad daylight, with authorities doing little to stop the activities.
Warren Hills, in the teeming suburb of Warren Park, currently bears scars of aggressive excavation by both sand merchants and the City of Harare.
The hill that separates Warren Park 1 and Warren Park D — once a picturesque landmark — is being defaced and is now riddled with ugly patches.
As the pits and gullies creep closer to the suburb, residents are getting worried.
Despite being an eyesore, the activities are generating noise, and the dust has made living in the once quieter section of Warren Park 1 insufferable.
“These people are doing their activities close to residential areas; if they are not stopped, our properties will be damaged. Already land that was good enough for building more homes has been destroyed,” said an irate resident, who fears cracks on his house could be a result of the illegal activities taking place close by.
On the Warren Park D end of the hill, the story is the same. Parents are living in fear that their children will fall into these gullies, which are increasing and getting deeper with each passing day.
The green foliage near Warren Hills has since disappeared.
Residents and conservationists are worried of what will become of the environment.
The graves at Warren Hills, which include the Harare Provincial Heroes Acre, may end up getting affected if the sand poachers are not checked.
When the The Sunday Mail visited the area last week, it witnessed some of the poachers loading gravel extracted from the hill.
Ramshackle lorries without registration numbers could be seen entering and leaving the compound, stirring clouds of dust in the process.
The frequency with which vehicles were arriving and leaving gave the impression of a thriving industry.
Another concerned resident, Mr Enock Chitova, complained that water accumulates in the gullies and puts children at risk of drowning, especially during the rainy season.
“They are not even concerned with what becomes of us. Deep pools and open pits collect water, thereby exposing children to risk,” he said.
Mr Chitova added that the gullies, pools and puddles make perfect breeding areas for vermin and even hiding places for robbers.
With predicted heavy rains this season, he fears there might be landslides, since the hill now holds loose rocks. He blames the city council for allowing unlicensed sand merchants to multiply.
“We have been heavily affected by dust coming from gravel extraction activities and movement of heavy vehicles up and down the hill,” he said.
While residents are concerned that their environs are being turned into wasteland, those involved in the illegal activities see them as rewarding.
A truck driver only identified as Marwei said their activities around Warren Hills were authorised by the Harare City Council.
“Council approved the extraction of gravel here,” he said, adding that they were told the hill will be replaced by residential stands.
A truckload of gravel fetches between US$40 to US$50.
Moulding bricks or scarring the land for sand without a licence is unlawful in Zimbabwe.
And yet small-scale, unlicensed brick moulding is common in peri-urban areas like Mt Hampden, Hopley, Seke and Epworth.
Environmentalists believe that raising awareness in communities remains the best alternative to safeguarding the environment, besides addressing socio-economic challenges.
The Government has enacted Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007, which requires those engaging in sand extraction for commercial purposes to be licensed.
The SI stipulates that “no person shall excavate, remove, possess or licence the removal of clay or sand deposit for commercial purposes without a licence by the Agency (Environmental Management Agency).”
According to Zimbabwe’s Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biodiversity 2020, sand mining is contributing to extensive environmental degradation.
A recent survey done by EMA revealed that approximately 1 594 hectares of land are affected by sand poaching in the country, and Harare alone contributes 850 hectares. EMA has so far prosecuted over 171 sand poachers and over 251 illegal sand transporters countrywide, with 115 sand poachers and 150 illegal sand poachers prosecuted in Harare.
EMA’s spokesperson Ms Emkela Sidange said: “The council, as planning authorities, are mandated to extract gravel in a responsible manner as per their by-laws.
“In the meantime, the Agency is reviewing its laws to include, among other things, the regulation of gravel extraction.”
However, Harare City Council has drafted an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) which, among other issues, specifies the need for rehabilitating the mined area.
City of Harare spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme said they are engaging experts to ensure sustainable mining of gravel in Warren Hills.
“City of Harare is in the process of engaging mining consultants so as to ensure sustainable extraction of gravel and also to ensure effective reclamation of the already extracted zones,” he said.