“Sand is the foundation of human construction and a fundamental ingredient in concrete, asphalt, glass and other building materials. But sand, like other natural resources, is limited and its ungoverned extraction is driving erosion, flooding, the salination of aquifers and the collapse of coastal defences…” – The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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In April 2023, the Environmental Reporting Collective (ERC) published a series of articles and video clips under the banner “Beneath the Sands.” The investigation into sand mining involved journalists and newsrooms based in 12 countries.
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In May 2023, the Mekong Eye published a series of in-depth articles under the banner “A Thirst for Sand”
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The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has partnered with Kenyan spoken word poet Beatrice Kariuki to shed light on the problems associated with sand mining, part of a wider push towards a zero waste world.
“We must redouble our efforts to build a circular economy, and take rubble to build structures anew,” Kariuki says in a new video. “Because without new thinking, the sands of time will run out.”
Sand is the second-most used resource on Earth, after water. It is often dredged from rivers, dug up along coastlines and mined. The 50 billion tonnes of sand thought to be extracted for construction every year is enough to build a nine-storey wall around the planet.
A 2022 report from UNEP, titled Sand and Sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis, found that sand extraction is rising about 6 per cent annually, a rate it called unsustainable. The study outlined the scale of the problem and the lack of governance, calling for sand to be “recognized as a strategic resource” and for “its extraction and use… to be rethought…”
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Our use of sand brings us “up against the wall”, says UNEP report
Sand and Sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis
The role of resource extraction in a “circular” world
The rising demand for sand to resume post-pandemic growth drives unregulated and illegal sand mining in the Mekong River, where people living along its banks have lost their houses and fortunes to severe erosion.
One October morning in Vietnam’s Dong Thap province, 72-year-old Nguyen Thi Cam sat on the banks of the Mekong River, staring at dredgers hoovering up sand in the distance.
“My house was over there before,” she said, pointing to a raft floating about 50 meters from the riverbank.
“After running away from erosion twice, the house is now located here,” she said of the old, dilapidated building by the river, where the shore was jagged and looked as if it could collapse at any time.
For more than a decade, sand mining had eaten away at the foundations of Cam’s old houses. A 25-hectare islet where she used to source corn and vegetables had disintegrated too.
The insatiable hunger for sand has intensified in the Mekong region – the home to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – in the past decade due to urbanization and growing construction sectors that promise development in these countries.
Many expressways are planned or have been built, especially in Cambodia and Vietnam, where road networks are seen as the main source of investment. Infrastructure projects – ranging from airports and ports to railways – will likely be revived in the post-Covid-19 pandemic era for economic recovery.
The demand for real estate is strong in Thailand as the growing number of middle-class seek new houses and condominium units, while the sector remains one of the most profitable investment opportunities…
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Watch for additional context:
How Sand Mining Is Quietly Creating A Major Global Environmental Crisis
The greed for grains of sand comes at an ecological disaster and fatal human cost; murders and other associated crimes which have taken a toll on poverty-stricken communities, particularly women.
The ERC investigation, Beneath the Sands, exposes how greed for grains of sand comes at a fatal human cost: As cities rise in number and countries urbanize rapidly, sand mining-related murders and other associated crimes have taken a toll on poverty-stricken communities.
We documented sand-related crimes happening in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Philippines and India, from tax evasion, trespassing to threats stalking activists to people caught in the crossfire between gangs known as ‘sand mafias.’
Finally, we look at how sand mining impacted the women in Cambodia, India, Kenya, and Indonesia. From home to the streets, women are on the frontlines in the resistance against these powerful sand mining operations.
Here are the stories they uncovered…
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Women against the grain – Beneath the Sands ERC
Women in Cambodia, India, Kenya and Indonesia share how they are on the frontlines in the resistance against powerful sand mining operations in their communities.
In a trade that is dominated and driven by men, women often bear the burden of the negative social and environmental impacts from sand mining activities across the world. This is evident in much of our reporting on the global industry. As is common with many environmental issues we face today, we feel that the disproportionate burden to women is a heavily underreported issue…
We can’t run away – Beneath the Sands ERC
The rise in sand demand endangers the lives of children, laborers, journalists and environmental defenders.
Greed over grains of sand has a fatal human cost: As cities rise and countries urbanize, sand-related murders and other associated crimes have taken a toll on poverty-stricken communities.
In parts of the globe, where sand is extracted, criminal gangs and sand mafias control the multi-billion dollar trade, spawning violence in land-rich, developing nations. On their trail are hundreds of people — miners, journalists and environmental defenders — reported to have been killed, imprisoned or threatened…
Reclamation: A flawed solution – Beneath the Sands ERC
A deep dive into the rationale behind some of Asia’s reclamation projects, the toll they take on our environment and communities, and the search for more sustainable alternatives.
Reclamation is seen as a solution for countries to deal with increasing land demands, by expanding their territory and rehabilitating previously uninhabitable lands or seas. Yet, the process guzzles an alarming amount of sand, causing massive environmental damage as well as a rise of transnational criminal syndicates trading in illegal sand..
Nowhere to fish, nowhere to farm – Beneath the Sands ERC
Across Asia and Africa, countries are dealing with massive sand mining that destroys fishing grounds, farmlands, and homes.
Beting Aceh, an island in Riau Province, Indonesia, has been Eryanto’s home for 40 years. The island is known for its white sandy beaches and clean ocean water; more than half its residents are fishers.
But the island has drastically changed over the past two years. The ocean water is getting murky, the beach is shrinking, and it has suffered from massive erosion, indicated by the uprooted trees strewn along the coast. Many villagers say the damage is linked to a sand mining operation happening between Beting Aceh and the neighboring Babi Island…
Global sand trade figures don’t add up – Beneath the Sands ERC
Huge global demand is fuelling illegal trade in high-grade sand, one reason for a gap in export and import data.
On March 17, more than 120 tons of sand packed into drums was loaded onto the Basle Express, a container freight ship more than three soccer fields long. The ship was docked in one of America’s major ports, Savannah, Georgia, in the Southeast region of the country.
The shipment itself was not remarkable — except for how it is emblematic of the international sand trade, highlighting the type of sand that attracts foreign buyers, the countries that are buying and those that are selling…
Remember what it was like as a kid when a grownup told you “Because I said so”?
Well, a newly constituted majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has recently flexed its ideological muscle, upending 50 years of precedent guiding its decisions, and basically told us “Because I said so.”
This quiet revolution by an activist majority, deciding cases based on primarily political grounds rather than on the constraints of facts and legal precedent, will have grave impact on environmental policymaking – as well civil rights, healthcare, safety, education, elections, technology, finance, and economics…
KPIX CBS NEWS | 05-30-2023
“Westcliff Drive was hammered…I’ve been here for 55 years and I’ve never seen anything like it…” – Gary Griggs
A new government study predicts that many of California’s most iconic beaches are in danger of disappearing…
Additional Resources: SAND
A new book from Duke University Press, “Vanishing Sands: Losing Beaches to Mining,” casts light on the shadowy world of sand mining through case studies that illuminate its disastrous impacts and a concluding chapter that proposes common-sense solutions.
Because of the tradition of viewing beaches as public land, people have historically thought of beach sand as a free and limitless resource, Pilkey and his co-authors explain in their preface to “Vanishing Sands…”
"Dr. Beach" unveils his Top 10 Beaches in the US - CNN Travel
Florida’s St. George Island State Park earns the top slot. The barrier island park offers nine miles of pristine beaches along the Gulf Coast. With nature trails for biking and hiking, plus birding, fishing, boating and camping…excellent swimming and sunbathing. It’s also a prime spot for stargazing with limited light pollution and an observation platform for night sky exploration. The beach has “some of the whitest, finest sand in the world,” said (Stephen) Leatherman (aka Dr. Beach)…“The water is crystal clear and clean, far from any sources of pollution on this offshore barrier island…”