Diumenge, 26 Maig 2019

Are we running out of sand?


The War on Sand is a topic that has been highly disregarded, but what is certain is that sand is becoming one of the most sought-after commodities in the world in both legal and illegal trades. However, with such a high demand the real cost of sand is emerging as our world’s supply is depleting. Sand is the most extracted material in the world and the world hasn’t even woken up the fact it is disappearing at an alarming rate and the global battle for sand is becoming ugly.

Why is sand such a sought-after commodity?

Surprisingly, sand is a commodity that is used perhaps a lot more than one believes. Sand is a component of glass, wine, toothpaste, cosmetics, solar panels and cleaning products [1]. Today, the use of sand prevails in our device microchips, as the demand for smartphones and technological devices increase our sand disappears. Although, this is only a small sector in comparison to the construction industry which is swallowing our world’s sand supply.

Today, we need sand more than ever. As our world population grows sand has become our most wasted resource. With more urbanisation comes construction and industrialisation which thrives with huge consumptions of sand. From our homes to skyscrapers, to our bridges to the footpaths, sand is a key component of our lives.

To sum it up, the reality is sand is paramount to our modern economy, with the United Nations estimating that the mining of sand will exceed 40 billion tonnes per a year. Our civilization is built around sand and it ranks second as the most consumed natural resource, with the first being fresh water.

Essentially without sand, we wouldn’t have the same world we have today.

Are we being immersed into a sand war?

Nations are fuelling the sand war and creating problems not just for international law but concurrently for our environment. Singapore is artificially extending its coastline. The city-state is one of the world’s largest importers of sand [2]. Singapore is planning on increasing their territory by 6200 hectares, despite the fact that it has already seen a 22% territorial increase since the 1950s.

Since 2005, it is estimated that around twenty islands in Indonesia have disappeared due to sand mining, most of this sand has travelled to Singapore and has become artificial land extensions. As a response to the environmental damage that has been caused by the Singaporean imports, countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia have restricted their sand exports to the city-state [3]

Construction and industries are everywhere, thus this is a global battle. Wherever there is construction there is sand. It may seem like a strange concept, but the mining of sand has greatly increased. Countries are developing and growing rapidly particularly in China, Nigeria and India that are seeing great problems with sand due to their exponential growth and demand for more concrete [4]

On the surface, sand does seem infinite and hence why there has not been great attention paid to this resource, however, this is not the case and many countries are profiting from exporting sand. Ironically, Australia cannot sell sand fast enough to the Arab Nations, especially UAE’s Dubai which is rapidly constructing many multi-storey developments and infrastructure. Many may think that sand is not scarce as the earth is still home to masses of deserts. However, desert sand is not suitable for construction purposes as it doesn’t stick together and is eroded by wind, not water. Sand that is eroded by water such as the sand we find in our beaches and rivers is the type required for quality construction and in heavy demand. Sand is a fragile and scarce commodity, yet we are sitting by and watching it be depleted.

Nations are attempting to avoid a sand war; however, it seems inevitable. Governments will need to respond with strict regulations regarding this industry and nations will need to be transparent when it comes to mining and trade of this scarce and much-needed commodity.

Corruption and rise of the sand mafia

In developing nations, the sand war has already hit and there has been an emergence of sand mafia, with groups and gangs controlling supply. With the rise of beach theft, some beaches will disappear creating a huge environmental crisis.

India is a nation that has been hit hard by sand mafias with huge illegal trades of sand, in most cases these groups are getting away with it. The Construction Industry Development Council indicated that India consumes around 500 million tons of sand per year [5], this is a legal number. The Indian black-market sand trades are said to make around $16 million per month [6]. As the sand trade proceeds both illegally and legally lives are being cost, it is estimated that hundreds of people have been killed by gangs and sand mafias within India alone. Moreover, those speaking out about the mafias are living in fear. The strong demand for sand is no match for the weak government regulations.

There is also the common theft of sand from the beaches, these thieves in some cases are local residents. Beach theft destroys that particular area’s ecosystem and has tremendous implications on the environment, and will even affect the coastal current streams which may lead to floods and even the disappearance of islands, as seen in Indonesia.

Our Global Sand trade is estimated at $70 billion a year; however, our global illegal trade is worth billions more. Sand is scarce and yet a blind eye is turned. It is time to wake up and stop taking this natural resource for granted.

It does not seem as if the global construction boom will slow down which is not good news for the sand war.


[1] https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/running-sand-numbers-171218092024986.html

[2] https://www.smh.com.au/world/sand-wars-singapores-growth-comes-at-the-environmental-expense-of-its-neighbours-20160225-gn3uum.html

[3] https://www.wired.com/2015/03/illegal-sand-mining/

[4] https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-04-03/worlds-deadly-war-over-sand-7-things-you-need-know

[5] https://news.vice.com/article/how-indias-sand-mafia-pillages-land-terrorizes-people-and-gets-away-with-it



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