Global Sand Wars?

Via Popular Mechanics, a report on the global sand crisis – which while not an agricultural producing resource – is a resource in demand (with 50B metric tons used in concrete and glass production annually) and around which mafia-style black markets are developing:

The world is in crisis yet again. This time around, it’s a sand shortage.

The most-extracted solid material in the world, and second-most used global resource behind water, sand is an unregulated material used extensively in nearly every construction project on Earth. And with 50 billion metric tons consumed annually—enough to build an 88-foot-tall, 88-foot-wide wall around the world—our sand depletion is on the rise, and a completely unregulated rise at that.

Last week, the Kenya-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a new report with recommendations for avoiding a sand-shortage crisis. This summary follows a 2019 UNEP awareness report in which the organization says the sand crisis has been “overlooked.”

“To achieve sustainable development, we need to drastically change the way we produce, build and consume products, infrastructures, and services,” Pascal Peduzzi, the UNEP coordinator for the sand report writes. “Our sand resources are not infinite, and we need to use them wisely. If we can get a grip on how to manage the most extracted solid material in the world, we can avert a crisis and move toward a circular economy.”

Naturally occurring over thousands of years—if not hundreds of thousands of years, most sand originates in the mountains and forms as rivers bring it downstream toward oceans. Sure, head to beaches across the world to feel the sand between your toes, but sand does more than delight beachgoers and build cities. Sand also performs key environmental roles; it is a major factor in protecting from storm surges, ensuring healthy natural habitats for a variety of species, and protecting against erosion.

The sand world is an unregulated one, so when sand is pulled from sensitive areas, it distresses biodiversity and creates additional environmental risks that can turn into physical threats. UNEP wants to see an international standard for extracting sand from marine environments, and calls for a central authority to track global sand use while promoting other materials. Officials want incentives for construction projects that ditch sand and instead use crushed rock, recycled construction and demolition material, or ore-sand, a mining byproduct—the three main alternatives to natural sand.

Of course, nothing’s purer—or cheaper—than natural sand. And that has led to a sand underworld, says Vince Beiser on NPR. “Organized crime has taken over the sand business,” he says. “And they do what mafias do everywhere. They bribe police. They bribe cops. And if you really get in their way, they will kill you.”

As the developing world grows, so does the sand business. Places such as India, Indonesia, China, and more have the most issues, Beiser says, even as China uses more sand than any other nation at roughly half of the world’s overall sand use. Small islands have been mined away in Southeast Asia just for their sand.

Sand feeds the materials that build a growing world. The sand crisis is here, and it is not going anywhere.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 9th, 2022 at 9:57 am and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
Seeds Of A Revolution is committed to defining the disruptive geopolitics of the global Farms Race.  Due to the convergence of a growing world population, increased water scarcity, and a decrease in arable land & nutrient-rich soil, a spike of international investment interest in agricultural is inevitable and apt to bring a heretofore domestic industry into a truly global realm.  Whether this transition involves global land leases or acquisitions, the fundamental need for food & the protectionist feelings this need can give rise to is highly likely to cause such transactions to move quickly into the geopolitical realm.  It is this disruptive change, and the potential for a global farms race, that Seeds Of A Revolution tracks, analyzes, and forecasts.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has long held a keen interest in natural resource policy and the geopolitical implications of anticipated stresses in the areas of freshwater scarcity, biodiversity reserves & parks, and farm land.  Monty has lived, worked, and traveled in more than forty countries spanning Africa, China, western Europe, the Middle East, South America, and Southeast & Central Asia, and his personal interests comprise economic development, policy, investment, technology, natural resources, and the environment, with a particular focus on globalization’s impact upon these subject areas.  Monty writes about freshwater scarcity issues at and frontier investment markets at