Environmental exploitation is causing an untold pain and suffering to the residents of Bijilo, Freedom Newspaper can reveal. Sand digging is the order of the day in Bijilo. Residents can hardly inhale fresh air in that tourism location of The Gambia. Dust invades their homes. There is also heavy noise coming from the sand mining site. Sand is often poured on the battered road; thereby making it virtually impossible for motorists to ply into the neighborhood.
Foreign embassies are located in that environmentally polluted neighborhood. Some Gambians widely considered as “wealthy” also reside there. Among them, is Muhammed Jah, the Gambian business magnet. Papa Njie, the leader of the People’s Progressive Party PPP lives there; Ebou Sillah, the former Gambian international football star, is also a resident and the former Gambian Disc jockey (DJ) Joe Barry lives there.
The main road that leads to the neighborhood is deplorable. Vehicles spend hours just to travel to the other side of town.
Residents have been paying taxes to the Brikama Area Council but haven’t benefited from the taxes they have been paying to the local authority. They do not have access to good roads, markets, parks and social amenities.
Now the residents of Bijilo are at the mercy of sand miners. A Lebanese businessman, identified as Tony, has been licensed by Gambia’s Geology Department to operate a sand mining “QUARY” in Bijilo. Tony is making millions of dalasis from that “QUARY”. He sells sand. He has trucks that loads and unloads sand for him. The only day the Bijilo “Quary” closes is Sundays.
Joe Barry is a longtime resident of Bijilo. Barry has been spearheading a campaign to stop the sand mining in his neighborhood.
“The sand miners are killing us; we can hardly breathe fresh air. Our homes are dusted. The main road has also been damaged by the miners. We can hardly relax in our homes because of the noise coming from that mining site,” Barry told Freedom Radio Gambia in an interview.
Barry had made repeated attempts to ask the miners to stop the environmental exploitation, but without success. He spends the day appealing to the miners to quit, but they wouldn’t heed to his appeals.
“The illegal mining is causing health problems to the community. The dust we inhale is bad. The roads are no longer navigable. I had to pour some water on the road in order to be able drive my car. This is really messy,” he said.
Like Joe Barry, resident Ebou Sillah, also complained about the dust and noise coming from the mining site. Sillah would close his house doors and windows the whole day, just to avoid the dust coming from the site.
“This place is becoming inhabitable. We are really suffering. Prior to the illegal mining, we were faced with the issue of bad road. Vehicles cannot safely drive through the neighborhood because of its deplorable condition. There was this day, I went out to enjoy myself at Senegambia. On my way home, I took a taxi, and the driver charged me five hundred dalasis (D500). He said the road that leads to my home is bad. Sometimes, I would walk from Senegambia to my home at late night,” Sillah tells Freedom Radio.
Sillah and Joe Barry had visited government agencies to lodge a complaint against the illegal sand mining taking place in their neighborhood.
“I personally visited the Brikama Area Council to inform them the environmental damage the miners are causing in our area. I told them that I pay taxes and we do not deserve this kind of pollution,” he added.
Sillah was able to investigate to establish the person, who was behind the sand mining. He was told that one Tony, a Lebanese businessman was running the site.
“I am going to meet Tony tomorrow. We will not give up, unless they stop the illegal mining. There are human beings living in this neighborhood. The environment should be protected,” he said.
Ebou’s friend George Louba, also a former Gambian international football star, is also concerned about the environmental damage and pollution taking place in that neighborhood.
“I feel sorry for Ebou and his neighbors. They can hardly breathe fresh air. The place is polluted. Ebou often comes to my house to find fresh air. He can hardly live here. His doors are always closed. I only visit him on Sundays, when the mining site is closed. I told him that I wouldn’t come here because of the dust,” Louba remarked.
Joe Barry and his team today visited the National Environmental Agency, where they met two officials: Mr. Nying and Hydara. They were told that the agency wasn’t aware of the sand mining taking place in Bijilo.
Barry later met with the Geology officials at the Kanifing office: Cham and Mr. Jawo. He said he was told by the officials in Kanifing that Tony was never issued permit to sell sand. Instead, Tony was only allowed to dig some sand for personal use and not for sale, he said.
The Geology officials in Kanifing couldn’t be reached for comment at press time.