sand mining

Sands running out of time: The greed for construction has brought the world to a sand crisis

Overuse of sand for construction and industry is harming the environment and fueling violence around the world.

When people picture sand spread across idyllic beaches and endless deserts, they understandably think of it as an infinite resource. But as we discuss in a just-published perspective in the journal Science, over-exploitation of global supplies of sand is damaging the environment, endangering communities, causing shortages and promoting violent conflict.

Skyrocketing demand, combined with unfettered mining to meet it, is creating the perfect recipe for shortages. Plentiful evidence strongly suggests that sand is becoming increasingly scarce in many regions. For example, in Vietnam domestic demand for sand exceeds the country’s total reserves. If this mismatch continues, the country may run out of construction sand by 2020, according to recent statements from the country’s Ministry of Construction.

This problem is rarely mentioned in scientific discussions and has not been systemically studied. Media attention drew us to this issue. While scientists are making a great effort to quantify how infrastructure systems such as roads and buildings affect the habitats that surround them, the impacts of extracting construction minerals such as sand and gravel to build those structures have been overlooked. Two years ago we created a working group designed to provide an integrated perspective on global sand use.

In our view, it is essential to understand what happens at the places where sand is mined, where it is used and many impacted points in between in order to craft workable policies. We are analysing those questions through a systems integration approach that allows us to better understand socioeconomic and environmental interactions over distances and time. Based on what we have already learned, we believe it is time to develop international conventions to regulate sand mining, use and trade.

Sand mining on the west side of the Mabukala bridge in Karnataka, India. Photo credit: Rudolph A Furtado/Wikimedia Commons PD-self
Sand mining on the west side of the Mabukala bridge in Karnataka, India. Photo credit: Rudolph A Furtado/Wikimedia Commons PD-self

Skyrocketing demand

Sand and gravel are now the most-extracted materials in the world, exceeding fossil fuels and biomass (measured by weight). Sand is a key ingredient for concrete, roads, glass and electronics. Massive amounts of sand are mined for land reclamation projects, shale gas extraction and beach renourishment programs. Recent floods in Houston, India, Nepal and Bangladesh will add to growing global demand for sand.

In 2010, nations mined about 11 billion tonnes of sand just for construction. Extraction rates were highest in the Asia-Pacific region, followed by Europe and North America. In the United States alone, production and use of construction sand and gravel was valued at $8.9 billion in 2016, and production has increased by 24% in the past five years.

Moreover, we have found that these numbers grossly underestimate global sand extraction and use. According to government agencies, uneven record-keeping in many countries may hide real extraction rates. Official statistics widely underreport sand use and typically do not include nonconstruction purposes such as hydraulic fracturing and beach nourishment.

Dredger pumping sand and water to shore for beach renourishment, Mermaid Beach, Gold Coast, Australia, Aug. 20, 2017. Steve Austin, CC BY-SA
Dredger pumping sand and water to shore for beach renourishment, Mermaid Beach, Gold Coast, Australia, Aug. 20, 2017. Steve Austin, CC BY-SA

Sand traditionally has been a local product. However, regional shortages and sand mining bans in some countries are turning it into a globalised commodity. Its international trade value has skyrocketed, increasing almost sixfold in the last 25 years.

Profits from sand mining frequently spur profiteering. In response to rampant violence stemming from competition for sand, the government of Hong Kong established a state monopoly over sand mining and trade in the early 1900s that lasted until 1981.

Today organised crime groups in India, Italy and elsewhere conduct illegal trade in soil and sand. Singapore’s high-volume sand imports have drawn it into disputes with Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia.

Sand mining harms humans and the environment

The negative consequences of overexploiting sand are felt in poorer regions where sand is mined. Extensive sand extraction physically alters rivers and coastal ecosystems, increases suspended sediments and causes erosion.

Photo credit: Before NASA Earth Observatory After NASA Earth Observatory
Photo credit: Before NASA Earth Observatory After NASA Earth Observatory

Research shows that sand mining operations are affecting numerous animal species, including fish, dolphins, crustaceans and crocodiles. For example, the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) – a critically endangered crocodile found in Asian river systems – is increasingly threatened by sand mining, which destroys or erodes sand banks where the animals bask.

Sand mining also has serious impacts on people’s livelihoods. Beaches and wetlands buffer coastal communities against surging seas. Increased erosion resulting from extensive mining makes these communities more vulnerable to floods and storm surges.

A recent report by the Water Integrity Network found that sand mining exacerbated the impacts of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Sri Lanka. In the Mekong Delta, sand mining is reducing sediment supplies as drastically as dam construction, threatening the sustainability of the delta. It also is probably enhancing saltwater intrusion during the dry season, which threatens local communities’ water and food security.

Potential health impacts from sand mining are poorly characterized but deserve further study. Extraction activities create new standing pools of water that can become breeding sites for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The pools may also play an important role in the spread of emerging diseases such as Buruli ulcer in West Africa, a bacterial skin infection.

Preventing a tragedy of the sand commons

Media coverage of this issue is growing, thanks to work by organisations such as the United Nations Environment Programme, but the scale of the problem is not widely appreciated. Despite huge demand, sand sustainability is rarely addressed in scientific research and policy forums.

The complexity of this problem is doubtlessly a factor. Sand is a common-pool resource – open to all, easy to get and hard to regulate. As a result, we know little about the true global costs of sand mining and consumption.

Demand will increase further as urban areas continue to expand and sea levels rise. Major international agreements such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Convention on Biological Diversity promote responsible allocation of natural resources, but there are no international conventions to regulate sand extraction, use and trade.

As long as national regulations are lightly enforced, harmful effects will continue to occur. We believe that the international community needs to develop a global strategy for sand governance, along with global and regional sand budgets. It is time to treat sand like a resource, on a par with clean air, biodiversity and other natural endowments that nations seek to manage for the future.

Aurora Torres, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Ecology, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research; Jianguo “Jack” Liu, Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability, Michigan State University; Jodi Brandt, Assistant Professor - Human Environment Systems, Boise State University and Kristen Lear, Ph D Candidate, University of Georgia.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.