What’s a grain of sand really worth? You might think “not much,” until you consider the fact that sand is the second most-consumed natural resource in the world behind water. To underscore the importance of sand as a natural resource, consider the following facts.
In Kenya, arsonists set several houses on fire. The occupants run to the hills. Then the arsonists start scooping the sand. This is just another day in one of Africa’s impoverished countryside.
In September 2019, an entrepreneur is killed in a sand-violence-related episode. The same exact script had been replayed in Mexico and India barely a couple of months earlier.
At the centre of these conflicts is this seemingly innocuous product: sand.
Sand is simply the most widely mined mineral in the world. Gold, coal, nickel, and precious base metals such as lithium l do not attract the kind of attention sand does. Why is there so much attention on sand that people don’t think twice about killing for it? There are several possible explanations. First, useful sand is fast-diminishing. Although there’s plenty of sand in the world, most of it, especially desert sand, is useless. Second, current regulations on sand harvesting are weak. In fact, in some countries, it is the government that is flouting the rules. There is the intensified urbanization that is spiking demand for sand.
Intensified Urbanization Spikes Demand for Sand
Almost every nation in the world attaches development and civilization to urbanization. The latter is seen as a panacea for economic hardships and a ticket to a better life. People leave the countryside in droves to seek better opportunities in urban centres. The result is intensified urbanization that comes with increased construction and the consequent demand for sand.
Since 1950, populations living in urban areas have more than quadrupled to the current 4.2 billion. In essence, more than half of the world’s population is living in urban areas. This trend is fuelled by a combination of factors, among them an increase in global population and rural-to-urban migration. This has happened as people seek a better life away from the countryside. To compound matters, according to the UN, a further 2.5 billion people will join the already burgeoning urban population soon. With this increase, expect to see a further strain on sand harvesting and the resultant challenges.
With a diminishing sand resource on the one hand and a rising demand for housing (particularly concrete buildings) on the other, competition for sand has become fiercer. The aftermath? People have lost lives, and properties have been destroyed as sand pirates fight over this limited resource to meet the rising demand for concrete.
Sand Second Only to Water in Terms of Consumption
Sand is the second most-consumed resource after water. Every year, the world uses 50 billion tonnes of “aggregate” in the manufacturing of concrete, the term used by the sector to refer to sand. If you were to overlay the UK with this sand, you could cover every inch of the country. That’s how much sand is going into construction every year in the world as the construction industry goes concrete. Most of the harvested sand is used to make concrete. Desert sand cannot lock together to form solid concrete; so, it is largely useless for construction purposes.
Impacts of Sand Harvesting
Besides the loss of lives and property, harvesting 50 billion tonnes of sand is bound to have further negative impacts on livelihoods. The impact on the environment has also been severe. Since aggregate is found on river banks, beds, on the seashore, floodplains and in lakes, its exploitation is stripping these physical features bare. Forests and farmlands have been turned upside down as sand harvesters dig out this precious commodity.
Criminal elements have infiltrated the industry as they seek to illegally profit from the sand. In their wake, they have left untold destruction to the environment and properties, and caused the loss of lives.
Reclaiming Land Pushes the Demand for Sand even Further
Sand is not only used to construct buildings and roads. It is being used to manufacture new land as well. Millions of tonnes of sand are being vacuumed out of the sea by massive dredging ships in Hong Kong, California, and other places. Lagos City in Nigeria is reclaiming 9.7 sq. km from its shoreline to meet the rising demand for houses. In China, courtesy of land reclamation, entire wetlands have disappeared. In their place, luxury hotels and homes have sprung up.
Areas from where land has been reclaimed from the sea are too many to enumerate here. The impact on the environment has been severe. In Kenya, for instance, ocean dredging has depleted coral reefs, just as it has done in Florida and the Persian Gulf.
Urbanization is fuelling the global demand for concrete, exhausting sand resources and pushing communities to the brink of anarchy. Violent gangs and governments are using all manner of tactics to harvest sand in total disregard for property and human lives. In the process, the environment has suffered greatly. Entire cities are being constructed on what was once sea-land as dredging ships vacuum sand out of the sea. In their wake, they are leaving destroyed ecosystems and disrupted climate patterns. These trends indicate the importance of sustainable construction.
TKL Group is committed to sustainability in building design and construction. We are rethinking everything in terms of sustainability, down to the very water and sand used in our precast concrete.