Opinion: Sand mining creates critical need for global governance in the sector to address labour & environmental impacts

Author: M. Marschke, J. Rosseau, L. Schoeberger, & Michael Hoffman, EcoBusiness, Published on: 10 May 2020

"Roving bandits and looted coastlines: How the global appetite for sand is fuelling a crisis," 08 May 2020

Next to water, sand is our most consumed natural resource. The global demand for sand and gravel stands between 40 billion and 50 billion tonnes annually...

...Sand is also needed to manufacture medical-grade glass vials, which are used to hold vaccines. 

A diverse set of players including organised crime are involved in the sand mining industry. Roving bandits hunt for sand deposits to dredge, and operations may be hidden from port authorities using high-tech GPS spoofing devices. Local mafia-like structures — in India and likely in at least 70 countries — control entire sand mines and districts.

Infrastructure demands for housing and development fuels the concrete sector, which now contributes eight per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Scientists have also confirmed river bank instability from sand mining in the Mekong, Yangtze and other large rivers. Sand dredging impacts river flow, erosion levels and aquatic habitats.

In Myanmar, river-bed farmers are losing their land as sand mining intensifies. Across the Mekong Delta, people are struggling to find fish, which are affected by the noise of sand dredging, as homes and roads further crumble into rivers.

An important starting point for mobilising a sand agenda is the 2019 UNEP sand governance report, focusing on accountability and transparency in sand value chains. Global sand governance is critical.

...[R]esearchers and campaigners could focus on narratives that draw on the climate crisis or other ecological dimensions, such as directing attention to how sand dredging is linked to landslides and poorer water quality, or how sand infill leads to the loss of wetland habitat.

Others could unpack labour regimes, advocate for better working conditions, or explore the involvement of political groups in financing sand extraction. We need to delve deeper into how the sand mining sector relies on cheap labour, fast-moving money, some of it illicit, and criminal activities.


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