Sand crisis looms as world population surges, UN warns
Sand is the most exploited natural resource in the world after water, and we are consuming it faster than it can be replaced by geological processes.
On Tuesday, April 26, a UN report urged immediate action to avert a "sand crisis," including a ban on beach mining, as demand rises to 50 billion tons per year due to population increase and urbanization.
According to a UN Environment Program (UNEP) assessment, sand is the most exploited natural resource in the world after water, but its use is mostly unregulated, which means humans are consuming it faster than it can be regenerated by geological processes that take hundreds of thousands of years.
Global consumption for usage in glass, concrete, and construction materials has more than tripled in the last two decades, reaching 50 billion tons each year, or nearly 17 kilograms per person per day, according to the report, endangering rivers and coasts and even wiping out small islands.
“We now find ourselves in the position where the needs and expectations of our societies cannot be met without improved governance of sand resources,” Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, director of the Economy Division at UNEP said in the report’s foreword. “If we act now, it is still possible to avoid a sand crisis.”
According to UNEP's Pascal Peduzzi, who supervised the report written by 22 authors, some of the consequences of over-exploitation are already being felt. Sand extraction on the Mekong River, Southeast Asia's longest, was causing the delta to sink, resulting in the salinization of once rich regions.
Sand removal in a Sri Lankan river had changed the water flow, causing ocean water to rush inland, bringing salt-water crocodiles with it, he told journalists.
Demand is increasingly shifting to Africa, where tribes frequently collect sand from beaches to create expanding settlements. According to the paper, in some circumstances, this can leave coastlines more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as stronger storms.
Among the recommendations in the report were a ban on beach extraction and the development of an international standard for marine dredging, which can destroy ocean species.
It also advocated for reducing demand by utilizing sand from recovered materials such as concrete and mining tailings rather than natural sand.