Glorious golden sandy beaches fill us with happiness. Looking at the endless stretches of sand makes us think that the world will never run out of sand. But actually, the opposite is true. Sand mining which has been going on for decades now has led to shortage of this natural resource globally. Over exploitation of sand pits has led to environmental damage and violent conflicts. In fact, there is a shortage of sand supplies, but the demand for sand is higher than ever due to its many uses, from construction to mobile phone screens.
Why do we need sand
Sand plays an important role in our lives, though we hardly ever give it a thought, and in most cases, unaware that a particular product has sand as one of the major components. We do know of course, that sand is used in construction, which is its major use. Apart from this, wineglasses, windowpanes, filtration, septic systems, swimming pools use sand in one form or the other. It’s used in oil and gas drilling, locomotives, foundries use it to make molds, engine blocks, manhole covers and a host of other use.
Increasing demand has led to increased extraction of sand
Gravel and sand are perhaps the materials which are most extracted globally, even more than biomass and fossil fuels. As it is used in concrete, glass, electronics, road construction and in large scale sand reclamation projects, the demand for sand has increased exponentially. 11 billion tons of sand was used just for construction in 2010.
The extraction was highest in Asia, followed by North America and Europe. In US, production increased by 24% in five years.
According to experts, the actual figures are much higher as all countries do not have a proper record keeping system.
The demand for sand now is so high that local production cannot meet the demand in many places, transforming sand into a global commodity. The cost of sand has also increased six times in the past 25 years.
Another fallout of sand mining is the creation of ‘sand mafia’ in many countries, leading to organized crime in many countries.
How does sand mining harm the environment
Sand mining has major negative consequences for the environment, especially in poorer countries. Over exploitation of sand resources has physically altered coastal ecosystems and the course of rivers, increased sediments and also caused erosion.
According to many studies, many species of animals including dolphins, fish, crocodiles and crustaceans are affected by sand mining. For example, a crocodile species known as ‘gharial’ found in many rivers in Asia, is now endangered by mining activities that erode and destroy the sand banks, which are the basking places for the crocodiles.
How are humans affected
Sand mining activities have had a negative impact on people as well. Livelihoods of people living in communities close to sand mines, including coastal communities are affected negatively. Wetlands and beaches act as buffer against the ocean in coastal areas. The increased erosion which results from relentless mining makes people in coastal communities suffer more from storms and floods.
The Mekong Delta is facing sustainability issues as it has been drastically impacted by mining activities. Environmentalists suspect that mining has probably led to saltwater intrusion into local drinking water supplies.
Large pools of water are formed after extraction, which can be extremely dangerous for humans, as they can become breeding grounds for all kinds of diseases, including malaria and skin diseases.
So, is there a solution
Sand is a common resource which can be accessed by all, and this fact makes it harder for governments to regulate sand mining.
Demand will only rise as human population increases. As of now, no international conventions are there to regulate the extraction, trade and use of sand.
Sand extraction cannot be stopped completely as we need it for many purposes, and till there are more synthetic materials available to replace sand, as well as stricter laws, sand mining will continue unchecked. The only solution is fair trade, stopping illegal mining and stricter regulations.