As you stroll along the sandy beach what consideration do you give what’s under your feet? Probably very little. Would you be surprised to know that it is quickly becoming a black market commodity? Once taken for granted sand is now becoming the center of a Global War complete the “Sand Mafia”.
As industrial cities expand so does the need for sand. After water and air sand is the natural resource most used by man. From the production of concrete, which is the basis for all building, to sand used in making affordable windows sand is also an ingredient found in many unlikely items from silicon chips, detergents, cosmetics and toothpaste. Sand is essential to modern living, especially in buildings. Every concrete building is “glued” together with cement the major component of cement is sand. As the need for sand explodes so does the ways to get it, legal or not.
Currently, the biggest consumer of sand is Singapore, which uses massive amounts to continue its artificial land reclamation from the sea to increase its territory by 130 kilometers in the last 4 decades making it the world’s largest sand importer. So much so that Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia have either restricted or banned sand sales to Singapore. Nowhere is the fight for sand more vicious than in India as the demand for housing continuously increases so does the demand for sand. Thus, the creation of the sand black market that goes hand in hand with the sand mafia (musclemen).
The sale of sand is responsible for the loss of two dozen Indonesian islands since 2005 and the damage of far more. Groups of illegal miners find it easy to pay off corrupt politicians and police in exchange for the opportunity to recklessly and illegally mine sand leaving gaping craters in the natural terrain like gashes after a vicious fight. Which is after all, what this is, a fight with the Earth to give more sand to fuel expansion of greater high rises, shopping malls and six lane highways. What can’t be taken legally has begun to be taken illegally. Though there are restrictions on sand mining in place in India it is common to see caravans of trucks hauling sand and groups of local “musclemen” who have taken the topsoil from the communal agricultural land striping it to get the sand and hauling off for right under the watchful eyes of police leaving the agricultural land good for little else. Additionally, the dust generated from the mining activities have stunted the growth of the remaining crops leading to poor yields.
Though not all officials can be bought and sometimes trucks are impounded, fines are levied and arrests are made. But India is a large country that more than 1 billion people call home and can hide thousands of illegal mining operations and many attempts to enforce the laws will be met with corruption and violence. It comes down to simple supply and demand. Sand is a limited natural resource. When mined in sustainable quantities it is finite but as the world ever expands the demand for it is infinite.
The need is to find sustainable building materials that does not require sand. Economic development has traditionally been understood to mean glass and concrete, both require sand. It is time to challenge traditional building practices with an eye to the future. All of a sudden, sand is everywhere and nowhere.
The Deadly Global War for Sand