Communities are pitted against sand harvesters, powerful cartels and one another as demand for sand in Kenya grows. Here, what used to be a river in Makueni is now a huge crater with steep cliffs due to sand harvesting.
Photos and Videos by Rachel Reed | Words by Harriet Constable
Irene Nduku Kasyoki, 36, stands by her husband's grave. He was killed by sand harvesters while trying to protect the community's sand. "My husband was very hardworking and loving to his family and everybody in the community," she says. Kasyoki says the sand harvesters no longer have any water and their families are suffering. They now "come and steal water from those who protect sand".
Irene Nduku Kasyoki spoke to Al Jazeera nine days after her husband's brutal murder.
A beach in Tiwi, along Kenya's coast, where sand dredging just beyond the reef has caused the beach to subside and start to disappear. This beach is a key nesting ground for sea turtles.
Richard Mutinda, 40, has harvested sand for more than one year. "I look for other jobs because I know the sand will run out," he says, leaning on his shovel. "I know that with the sand goes our water. I know that water is life, but what choice do I have?" 100 tonnes of sand can be taken a day from this stretch of the Nthange River alone. There are 15 - 20 harvesting sites on this river.
Local Makueni farmer and activist Anthony Mua Kimeu talks about sand harvesting violence.
Anthony Mua Kimeu looks at the steep cliffs of the "dead" Kilome Ikolya River. A couple of years ago, this river was flat; now the drop from the banks to the riverbed is about ten meters.
A man collects water on Kikuu River in Makueni. During the rainy season, water percolates into the sand and is stored underground. Then, during the dry season, locals dig small wells in the sand like this one to gather water.
Bedrock signals the bottom of Nthange River's riverbed. Without sand to slow it down, rivers can diverge and travel at incredibly fast speeds over the bedrock during the rainy season. Locals describe it as "like a tsunami", which erodes the land and can sweep away people and livestock.
Irene Nduku Kasyoki holds a photograph of her late husband Geoffrey Kasyoki, who was killed by sand harvesters for protecting sand in his community. His death "pierced my heart," she says.