How the scramble for sand is destroying the Mekong

How the scramble for sand is destroying the Mekong

SOURCE: BBC DATE: December 19, 2019 SNIP: A crisis is engulfing the Mekong River, its banks are collapsing and half a million people are at risk of losing their homes. The entire ecosystem of this South East Asian river is under threat, all because of the world’s insatiable demand for sand. Extracted from the bed of this giant river in Cambodia and Vietnam, sand is one of the Earth’s most sought-after resources. Up to 50 billion tonnes are dredged globally every year – the largest extractive industry on the planet. “Extraction is happening at absolutely astronomical rates, we’re having an industrial-scale transformation of the shape of the planet,” says river scientist Prof Stephen Darby at Southampton University. His studies on the lower Mekong show its bed has been lowered by several metres in just a few years, over many hundreds of kilometres, all in the quest for sand. From highways to hospitals, sand is the essential component for industries as varied as cosmetics, fertilisers and steel production – and particularly for cement. In the last two decades demand has increased threefold, says the UN, fuelled by the race to build new towns and cities. China consumed more sand between 2011 and 2013 than the US did in all of the 20th Century, as it urbanised its rural areas. Sand is also used to bulk up landmass – Singapore is 20% bigger now than it was at the time of independence in 1965. “Every year we extract enough sand to build a wall 27m (89ft) high and 27m wide, all the way around the world,” says Pascal Peduzzi of the...
Is the world running out of sand? The truth behind stolen beaches and dredged islands

Is the world running out of sand? The truth behind stolen beaches and dredged islands

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: July 1, 2018 SNIP: Our insatiable appetite for new buildings, roads, coastal defences, glass, fracking, even electronics, threatens the places we are designed by evolution to love most. The world consumes between 30 and 40bn tonnes of building aggregate a year, and half of this is sand. Enough material to build a wall 27m high and 27m wide around the equator. Sand is second only to water as a natural material extracted by humans, and our society is built on it, quite literally. Global production has risen by a quarter in just five years, fuelled by the insatiable demands of China and India for housing and infrastructure. Of the 15 to 20bn tonnes used annually, about half goes into concrete. Our need for concrete is such that we make almost 2 cubic metres worth each year for every man, woman and child on the planet. But what of those oceans of sand stretching from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf – the Sahara and the Arabian Desert? The wrong kind of sand, unfortunately. Wind action in deserts results in rounded grains that are too smooth and too small to bind well in concrete. Builders like angular sand of the kind found on riverbeds. Sand, sand everywhere, nor any grain to use, to paraphrase Coleridge. Riverbed sand is prized, being of the correct gritty texture and purity, washed clean by running fresh water. Marine sand from the seabed is also used in increasing quantities, but it must be cleansed of salt to avoid metal corrosion in buildings. It all comes at a cost. International trade in...