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Sand & Sustainability

The world is about to face another crisis. The UN has warned the global community to save sand, saying that there would be acute shortage of sand in near future.

There is a huge demand for sand in our daily life, as no construction work can be completed without this loose granular material. However, illegal mining of sand across the globe could trigger a crisis soon. The World Body has claimed that sand is being extracted illegally and unscientifically from the seabed or riverbed. According to the UN, the pace at which sand is being extracted is really fast, keeping in mind that it is produced in a natural way through an lengthy and elaborate process. In other words, human beings are consuming sand faster than it can be replaced by geological processes that usually take hundreds of thousands of years.

Director (Economy Division) of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Sheila Aggarwal-Khan stressed: “We now find ourselves in the position where the needs and expectations of our societies cannot be met without improved governance of sand resources. If we act now, it is still possible to avoid a sand crisis.

As per a recent study, the use of glass, concrete and building materials has tripled worldwide in the last two decades to reach 50 billion tonnes a year, or about 17kg per person each day. As expected, the development has started hurting rivers and coastlines, apart from wiping out small islands.

It may be noted that sand plays an important role in maintaining the balance of the environment, as it prevents storms, river and sea erosion. Furthermore, many animals need sand for their survival. Hence, illegal and unscientific mining of sand has started to have adverse effects on the environment. In the Mekong River (the longest in Southeast Asia that runs from the Tibetan Plateau to Vietnam through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia), sand extraction was causing the delta to sink, leading to salinisation of previously fertile lands. In Sri Lanka, sand removal from a riverbed reversed the water flow in the past, allowing the ocean water to head inland and bring salt-water crocodiles there. Removing sand from coastal areas can make coastlines more vulnerable, impacting Climate Change.

Senior UNEP official Pascal Peduzzi has expressed serious concern over the scenario, stating that sand is the most-extracted solid material in the world, and second-most used global resource after water. However, the usage of sand is largely ungoverned.

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