A UN report warns of the excessive exploitation of sand and its devastating effects on the environment and the economy


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A recent report issued by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) on April 26 revealed that the exploitation of sand has increased threefold over the past 20 years, and that an end to this excessive consumption of this substance is now necessary.

Each year, the countries of the world consume 50 billion tons of sand, amounting to 18 kilograms per person, which is the amount that enables the construction of a wall around the planet, 25 meters high and 27 meters wide. With this huge size, sand has become the second most consumed resource on our planet by humans after water, and therefore the countries of the world – as the report added – must reconsider their methods of extraction and exploitation.

This report is the second of its kind issued by the UN body after the first report issued in 2019. The new report for this year 2022 is titled “Sand and Sustainability: 10 strategic recommendations to avert a crisis”.

Countries around the world are exploiting sand in ways that cause environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity (Shutterstock)

Destructive exploitation of the environment

According to the report, countries around the world are exploiting sand in ways that cause environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity. Exploiting this resource in coastal areas and valleys leads to coastal erosion and weakens the degree of protection from sea storms.

In addition to all that, the excessive exploitation of sand negatively affects the local people who live from marine habitats, because the method of exploitation also causes the loss of biodiversity and the decline of sea resources and other negative effects that have a significant impact even on the tourism sector.

The coordinator and supervisor of the report, Pascal Peduzzi, said in the press release issued by the United Nations Environment Program, “We urgently need today to reconsider and review all the methods we use today in construction… Sand is not an infinite resource, and with this rapid pace of its exploitation, we will cause elimination. on our environment.”

It is known that sand is used in the construction of facilities and roads, and in the manufacture of glass, solar panels and other uses, and since the population is constantly increasing, the exploitation of this substance will undoubtedly increase, and this can only be stopped with sustainable thinking, experts say.

beach sand
Overexploitation of sand negatively affects local people living from marine habitats (Shutterstock)

Abdelkader Abdel Rahman, one of the co-authors of the report and an expert at the Institute for Security Studies/ ISS in the Dakar office in Senegal, said in a telephone statement to Al Jazeera Net, “There is an illegal exploitation of sand in Morocco and Indonesia, which has negatively affected the environment.” In these two countries, if the necessary measures are not taken, the consequences will be dire.”

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He explained that “in Indonesia, for example, the illegal exploitation of sand caused the disappearance of about 24 small islands in the period between 2005 and 2014 only, and this is a very dangerous and unfortunate reality that must be changed.”

Our interviewer added, “Morocco exports sand to countries such as Spain and the UAE, which built the Palm Island, for example, from sand that is all imported, and it extracts it not only from its beaches but also from the Western Desert, where the volume of desert sand that was exported to the Canary Islands, for example, is estimated at about 750,000 tons. in the period between 2012 and 2017.

Overexploitation of sand Overexploitation of sand Photo from /unsplash./
In Indonesia, for example, the illegal exploitation of sand has caused the disappearance of about 24 small islands (Unsplash).

10 solutions to avoid a potential crisis

The report contained strategies to contain the situation, consisting of 10 recommendations that serve as sustainable solutions to the crisis. Among the most important of these recommendations is the need to consider sand as a strategic resource, and accordingly the countries of the world must prepare appropriate legislation with its sustainable exploitation, review its prices towards an increase, and prevent its extraction from beaches.

The report recommends developing a circular economy in the used sand, so that countries can recycle, for example, the stones of buildings that are subject to demolition, as it was customary to bury and dispose of them in technical backfill areas, and this technology is no longer in line with the goals of sustainable development.

The report also recommends the countries of the world to prepare accurate maps of the areas of sand presence so that they can monitor them in order to prevent theft or excessive exploitation and thus ensure their sustainable management.

At the level of civil society, working to raise awareness among the population of the importance of this vital substance would contribute to limiting its excessive or illegal exploitation.

beach sand
The report recommends that countries in the world prepare accurate maps of sand areas so that they can be monitored (Shutterstock)

Abdul Qader Abdul Rahman proposed sustainable solutions to reduce the excessive exploitation of sand, as is the case in Japan, which passed legislation in 1990 that prevents the exploitation of sand and encourages the recycling of destroyed buildings and waste generated by quarries.

In the American city of Florida, used glass bottles are exploited and turned into sand. In Algeria, there are companies that work in building bridges and constructing roads. They use used car tires and recycle them with concrete to reduce the use of sand.

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