FOOD security for about 500 villagers has been affected following a development project in the village of Kavula in Bua.
Harmed are various types of fish, prawns and eels that villagers have depended on since the establishment of the village.
Tui Kavula Ratu Laisenia Masicola said his people in Kavula and other villgers from Bainikea, Votua and surrounding settlements had not been able to eat any of these harmed food for the past three months — when gravel extraction started.
He said the gravel was being used for the Nabouwalu Dreketi Highway.
"The river has decreased in width and it is now a simple creek with its entire biological ecosystem destroyed as extraction works have turned the river brown," he added.
"We are worried because what was once a vibrant waterway is now all gone within the span of three months after two extraction companies namely JJ Gravel Extraction and a subcontractor of the China Railway First Group started work in the river bed.
"This part of the Lekutu district normally relies on the fresh supplies from the river as a source of food for traditional ceremonies within the province of Bua and we are well known for our prawns, eels and freshwater fish."
JJ Gravel Extraction managing director Shin Ho Yu said he would visit the villagers to discuss their concerns.
China Railway spokesman Donald Singh said their supplier already had government's permission to work on the river.
"Therefore, this means that all the groundwork and consultation has been done by stakeholders including the Environment Department and relevant authorities," he said.
"If the supplier has been given the green light to work then all the relevant Environment Impact Assessment reports have been carried out and consultation has been done by stakeholders including the Environment Department and relevant authorities.
Acting Commissioner Northern Alipate Bolalevu said the landowners themselves had assented to both companies to extract gravel from their river.
"I think that both companies are paying their leases to the landowners so there is not much that can be done," he said.
"The Environment Department had already carried out their consultation with the people before they granted the companies permission to start extraction works."
Villagers interviewed questioned whether the Environment Department or the responsible authorities did carry out an assessment to evaluate the effects of extraction on the river.