Sand harvesting in water bodies has led to pollution, flooding, lowering of water aquifers and worsening drought, a new report by UN Environment has warned, noting a growing trend of unsustainable and illegal extraction of sand from coastal and freshwater sources.
The UN Environment said that damming and extraction have reduced sediment delivery from rivers to many coastal areas, leading to reduced deposits in river deltas, and accelerated beach erosion.
The report warned that sand removal from beaches could jeopardise the development of the local tourism industry, while removing sand from rivers and mangrove forests leads to a decrease of crab populations and negatively affects livelihoods.
“We are spending our sand ‘budget’ faster than we can produce it responsibly. By improving the governance of global sand resources, we can better manage this critical resource sustainably and truly demonstrate that infrastructure and nature can go hand in hand,” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment in a press release sent to newsrooms last week.
Kenya has recently come under the spotlight over the growing problem of sand harvesting from its coast. In 2016, the China Road and Bridge Corporation was chastised for collecting sand for construction of the standard gauge railway in Mombasa from Waa coral reef before the National Environment Tribunal revoked their license.
Extraction of sand is also happening off Diani Beach in Kwale County, for the construction of the second phase of the container terminal in Mombasa’s Port Reitz. This has prompted parliamentarians to tour Diani, following outcry by Kenyans over illegal sand harvesting at Diani Beach, which is popular with tourists.
According to the UN, shifting consumption patterns, growing population and urbanisation and infrastructure development have increased demand for sand three-fold in the last two decades; and after water, sand and gravel are the second-largest resource extracted and traded. Currently, the global demand for sand and gravel stands at 40 to 50 billion tonnes per year.
The report advises that to meet demand in a world of 10 billion people without harming the environment, effective policy, planning, regulation and management will be needed. Currently, sand extraction and use is defined by its local geography and governance context and does not have the same rules, practices and ethics worldwide.
With sand extraction regulated differently around the world, important regions for biodiversity and ecosystems are made more vulnerable by challenges in the local implementation of these regulations. Therefore, experts are calling for customisation of existing standards and best practices to national circumstances.
The report also calls for investment in sand production and consumption measurement, monitoring and planning, and further suggests establishing dialogue between key players and stakeholders in the sand value chain based on transparency and accountability. The report was presented to policymakers at the United Nations Environment Assembly where a new Mineral Resource Governance Resolution was adopted, including a call for sustainable sand management.