Rising rates of Urbanisation and Building Boom threaten an ‘inexhaustible’ resource … Sand!

Key Points …

-exact data on the amount of sand mined each year is not available; the trade is undocumented or illegal

– estimated sand extraction industry is worth more than $70 billion a year

-only gritty sand found in riverbeds is suitable

rivers equate to less than 1 per cent of the world’s surface

.the extent of extraction has wide-ranging effects on the ecosystem

WAS Trump’s proposal to buy Greenland prompted by the ice melts due to global warming, of around 900 million tonnes of sediment?

ANOTHER reason for the property sector to build according to Standards, and ethically perhaps?

Sands of time are running out

Building boom threatens an ‘inexhaustible’ resource, says Thomas Ringheim

Lorries are loaded at Ghaziabad, a centre for illegal sand extraction in India

*While the world focuses on when fossil fuel reserves will dry up, scientists are sounding the alarm over supplies of a resource that used to be regarded as inexhaustible – sand.

Used extensively in building materials and in glass making, sand is being extracted at a pace that far exceeds the rate of natural renewal.

*In a report published in July in the science journal Nature, researchers from the the University of Colorado calculate that by 2050 the demand for sand will far surpass availability.

At the moment there is no accurate data on the availability and mining of sand, and the researchers are calling for oversight and monitoring systems.

*Exact data on the amount of sand mined each year is not available because much of the trade is undocumented or illegal, which means that there is an extensive black market. It is estimated that the sand extraction industry is worth more than $70 billion a year.

The illegal sand trade also has a violent side. It has been reported in The Guardian and the New York Times that clashes over sand, sometimes between local ‘sand mafias’, have killed hundreds of people over the past decade in countries such as India and Kenya.

In Southeast Asia, sand extraction can become political. China is building artificial islands with port facilities and airstrips in the South China Sea to house military bases, thus strengthening their territorial claims within the region.

Singapore, one of the world’s largest importers of sand, has increased its total land area by 25 per cent over the past 100 years. It is claimed that much of the sand used was sourced without documentation from neighbouring countries.

In the Philippines, several land reclamation projects are due to begin in Manila Bay – many of which have been opposed by environmental groups.

Between 32 billion to 50 billion tonnes of sand and gravel – commonly known as aggregates – are extracted each year, making sand the most mined natural resource after water.

*According to an article released last January by the United Nations Environment Programme, this is enough to build a 35 metre by 35 metre wall stretching around the equator each year. With population growth and rising rates of urbanization, prices are expected to rise by 400 per cent by the year 2100, according to the researchers from the University of Boulder.

*While sand and gravel are important to several industries, it is estimated that half of what is extracted is used in concrete. If predictions that two thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050 come true, demand for concrete will continue to rise exponentially.

While there is an abundance of sand in deserts around the world, it is usually too smooth to act as a binder for concrete.

Instead, the more angular and gritty sand found in riverbeds is the material of choice. Likewise, sea sand is rarely suitable for making concrete.

**As the Nature report highlights, rivers equate to less than 1 per cent of the world’s surface and the extent of extraction has wide-ranging effects on the ecosystem and livelihoods of animals and people who live by them.

Sand for building has traditionally been found close to where it is used but increasing scarcity is likely to create a global market.

*Mette Bendixen, a scientist from the University of Colorado and a lead author of the report, is planning to study the feasibility of exporting sand from an unusual source melting glaciers in Greenland. As the ice melts due to global warming, around 900 million tonnes of sediment is deposited each year to the surrounding waters.

Questions remain, however, about the costs, both environmental and economic, of exporting sand from Greenland. Scientists are also looking into developing manufactured sand. This is made by crushing granite. There is an ongoing debate in the construction sector about the advantages of this approach.

AUTHOR: Thomas Ringheim, Editorial Assistant, The World Today


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