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The government has closed down dangerous iron ore and gold mining sites in Rachuonyo South sub-county in Homa Bay County over safety concerns.

This is after quarry operators failed to get approval from relevant government authorities.

Seven operators at the two mining sites were also arrested on Wednesday during a joint operation between officials from the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and police.

Nema issued orders to operators of the two sites to vacate the areas after it emerged that they were working illegally, besides exposing their lives to danger as workers did not consider protecting themselves.

There is mushrooming of illegal mining sites in Homa Bay County, especially in Rachuonyo South which the environment watchdog said could lead to death or serious injuries.

Some sites are left open and dangerous burrows and pits filled with water.

At Kaduda near Sae which is believed to be having deposits of iron ore, operators of mines are accused of indiscriminately excavating the ground in search of the mineral, which is in high demand.

Local residents are said to have been approached by private investors who made an agreement with local land owners, who later permitted them to scoop soil with iron ore deposits for sale.

No approvals

At the quarries, Nema officials established that operators at the site were working without relevant documents from any government institution allowing them to engage in mining.

To operate a mine, investors must obtain a permit from the State Department of Mining, an environmental impact assessment report from Nema, among other approvals.

None of the mine operators at the site had these approvals.

Homa Bay County Nema Director Josiah Nyandoro also accused the operators of encroaching on government land in search of more iron ore.

“Nema is advocating for a clean and healthy environment. The only people who will suffer at the end of the mining exercise are locals because they will have no land for agriculture. We have engaged Kenya Forest Service (KFS) on the issue of encroachment,” he said.

Four people, including three men of Somali origin and an operator of a stone crushing machine were arrested at the site.

Residents report that mining of iron ore started within the Kaduda area four years ago.After scooping soil from the ground, the unprocessed mineral is ferried to other counties for making iron.

A foreign private investor who was engaged in the business was flushed out by residents.

“He recently hired locals as his managers then resumed mining,” one of the residents said.

Gold rush

A few kilometers from the site is another area in Kosele where mining has taken root but for a different mineral.

Residents from the area near Kosele Stadium recently discovered gold and embarked on a gold rush in a bid to become rich quickly.

They did not consider safety as they dug up the ground in search of the precious mineral.

According to Mr Nyandoro, miners have dug up vertical tunnels deep into the ground.

The tunnels have other horizontal shafts, leading to areas where gold deposits are believed to exist.

A major concern by the government is the safety of people inside the mines.

“In case of rain, the runoff will go into the mine and lead to drowning of the miners in the tunnels. Earth movement may also crush people inside the mine,” Mr Nyandoro said.

Three officials of a firm working on the gold mine were arrested at the site.

Gold mining requires use of chemicals, mostly sodium cyanide when processing the mineral which poses serious health risks to the locals.

Mr Nyandoro said they took the action of shutting down the mines so as to protect residents as well.

During the same operation, police arrested two people from Mawego Technical Training Institute who were supervising the construction of two buildings which had not been approved by Nema.

The agency has asked the institution to apply for an environmental impact assessment on the ongoing project.

“The law is very clear about environmental issues. Any person commencing a project should have an environmental impact assessment license. We are not subjective in the application of the law,” Mr Nyandoro said.