Gone with the Sand: River Sand Mining (RSM) and Gendered Livelihood Struggles in a Village in Sri Lanka

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International Journal of Research and Innovation in Social Science (IJRISS) | Volume IV, Issue V, May 2020 | ISSN 2454–6186

Gone with the Sand: River Sand Mining (RSM) and Gendered Livelihood Struggles in a Village in Sri Lanka

Fazeeha Azmi
Department of Geography, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

IJRISS Call for paper

Abstract— This article uses the concept of political ecology to understand the conflict arising out of RSM in the village and tries to locate gender and livelihood changes as central elements. Influenced by the foregoing discussion. The article views gender as an important aspect in the political ecology of RSM as the livelihood impact of RSM are different on men and women. The article adopts the view of ‘displacement in place’ to show how RSM has negatively affected the livelihoods of the interviewed villagers who have not physically moved outside the village, but engaged in local, trans local and temporary global migration based livelihoods.

Keywords—River sand mining, gender, livelihood, displacement, political ecology


Sri Lanka’s river systems have given employment opportunities for thousands of people; they have provided hydropower, raw materials for the booming construction industry and they are also attractive sites for the tourism industry. However, during the last two decades the increase in the extraction of river sand for the expanding construction industry has created socio, economic, political, infrastructural and ecological challenges. The introduction of neoliberal economic policies since 1977, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and post-war reconstruction activities created a pressure on the demand for river sand. The artisanal mode of RSM was not sufficient to meet the needs of rising local demands. This resulted in the sharp increase of sand prices as supply of river sand became limited. The situation attracted many people to invest in heavy machinery to cater to the increasing demand for river sand. Considering the severe damage caused to the environment due to the unprecedented increase in sand mining, the government started to regulate the activity through acts, laws and policies. Despite these actions, illegal RSM continues even in environmentally fragile rivers and challenges the livelihoods of the rural poor who live near or downstream from RSM operations. Based on a fieldwork conducted in a village located in the mid-stream of MahaOya, in the district of Kurunegala in Sri Lanka, this study aims to first, understand the impacts of RSM on the livelihoods of villagers. Next, it focuses on gendered individual responses by highlighting how men and women strategize their livelihoods in different ways. Finally, it describes the collective actions taken by villagers to respond to extensive RSM.