The World Is Running Out Of Sand

January 10, 2019

Sand is the new oil, it's key to the global economy and urban growth, but Mother Nature can't keep up with human consumption. The world is running out of sand and it's a big problem.


FEMALE_1: [MUSIC] Every year

FEMALE_1: 65 million new people become city dwellers,

FEMALE_1: drawn by the economic promise in cities that are

FEMALE_1: expanding or springing up from scratch across Africa,

FEMALE_1: Asia, the Middle East.

FEMALE_1: All of these new cities are built with cement.

FEMALE_1: The main ingredient of which is sand.

FEMALE_1: It's the critical ingredient to

FEMALE_1: a global building boom and we're running out of it.

FEMALE_1: [MUSIC] For every ton of cement you make,

FEMALE_1: you need another six to seven tons of sand to produce it.

FEMALE_1: And we're talking about a lot of cement.

FEMALE_1: China used more cement in three years

FEMALE_1: than the United States used in the entire 20th century,

FEMALE_1: building out its modern roads and cities.

FEMALE_1: Singapore has imported over 500 million tons of sand.

FEMALE_1: It's increased its territory

FEMALE_1: by 20 percent since the 1970s,

FEMALE_1: through a process called land reclamation.

FEMALE_1: A lot of that sand was

FEMALE_1: illegally mined from Malaysia, Vietnam,

FEMALE_1: Cambodia and Indonesia, where

FEMALE_1: two dozen islands have simply disappeared.

FEMALE_1: There's sand mined away until they sink into the sea.

FEMALE_1: Dubai is known for

FEMALE_1: ambitious projects like these artificial islands,

FEMALE_1: which took 385 million tons of sand.

FEMALE_1: [MUSIC] Projects like this have made

FEMALE_1: the United Arab Emirates one of

FEMALE_1: the world's biggest importers of sand.

FEMALE_1: Isn't Dubai in the desert?

FEMALE_1: Why is a desert country importing sand?

FEMALE_1: Desert sand shaped by wind is

FEMALE_1: more rounded than sand shaped by water.

FEMALE_1: That rounded shape means it doesn't bind together well.

FEMALE_1: If you want to make good cement,

FEMALE_1: you've got to get the good sand from

FEMALE_1: riverbeds and beaches and the ocean floor.

FEMALE_1: The problem is, we're using

FEMALE_1: sand at a rate that nature can't keep up with.

FEMALE_1: Marine sand is formed over thousands of

FEMALE_1: years of erosion but worldwide,

FEMALE_1: we're using 50 billion tonnes every year.

FEMALE_1: By weight, it's the most extracted natural resource

FEMALE_1: in the world [MUSIC].

FEMALE_1: And the pace at which we're using it,

FEMALE_1: far outstrips the natural rate of replacement,

FEMALE_1: which is wreaking havoc on people and the environment.

FEMALE_1: It's extracted from beaches and riverbanks,

FEMALE_1: sometimes by locals with buckets and shovels.

FEMALE_1: Other times it's done by

FEMALE_1: multinational corporations using dredgers,

FEMALE_1: the size of aircraft carriers.

FEMALE_1: [MUSIC] Removing millions of

FEMALE_1: tonnes of sediment from a river,

FEMALE_1: will really do a number on it.

FEMALE_1: It can make floods more frequent and more intense,

FEMALE_1: it can cause riverbanks to collapse,

FEMALE_1: taking homes and farmland with them,

FEMALE_1: as on the Mekong Delta.

FEMALE_1: This ruins farmland in a region where

FEMALE_1: a lot of Southeast Asia's food is grown.

FEMALE_1: Lowering the water table makes

FEMALE_1: droughts worse and more frequent.

FEMALE_1: It's also destructive to local ecosystems.

FEMALE_1: In Cambodia, fishermen are having to

FEMALE_1: leave their villages as the crabs and

FEMALE_1: fish that used to support them are

FEMALE_1: wiped out by illegal sand mining.

FEMALE_1: [MUSIC] Beaches that have been mined become barren pits,

FEMALE_1: reefs and fish populations are killed and

FEMALE_1: mining speeds up the natural process of coastal erosion,

FEMALE_1: making those coastal communities more vulnerable to

FEMALE_1: storms and floods and the march of the tide.

FEMALE_1: [MUSIC] Governments have tried to

FEMALE_1: regulate sand mining with little luck.

FEMALE_1: That's because it's a perfect black market commodity.

FEMALE_1: It's easy to get to,

FEMALE_1: it fetches a high price and

FEMALE_1: demand is highest in countries where locals

FEMALE_1: need the money and governments are either too

FEMALE_1: weak or too corrupt to stop the practice.

FEMALE_2: Forty year old journalist brutal murder for allegedly

FEMALE_2: taking on the sand mining mafia exposes the chilling.

MALE_1: Into horrific murder that's been caught on camera.

MALE_1: A journalist mowed down by the sand mafia and [inaudible 00:03:54].

FEMALE_1: In recent years, the sand mafia

FEMALE_1: has killed at least 70 people,

FEMALE_1: villagers who complain about

FEMALE_1: the environmental effects of the mines,

FEMALE_1: police and government officials who

FEMALE_1: have tried to conduct oversight,

FEMALE_1: and journalists who have dared to report about it.

FEMALE_1: [MUSIC] While the problem

FEMALE_1: is most acute in

FEMALE_1: developing countries, it's happening everywhere.

FEMALE_1: Germany, Canada, the UK, the US,

FEMALE_1: have also reported environmental concerns

FEMALE_1: linked to sand mining.

FEMALE_1: The demand for sand is only going to grow.

FEMALE_1: Construction will be a $15 trillion industry by 2025.

FEMALE_1: These emerging markets are set to see

FEMALE_1: their construction industries grow

FEMALE_1: by three to six percent a year.

FEMALE_1: So, are there solutions? Kind of.

FEMALE_1: The UN Environmental Program suggests using

FEMALE_1: alternative materials or taxing sand,

FEMALE_1: which would make cement more expensive,

FEMALE_1: which would have ripple effects

FEMALE_1: throughout the construction industry.

FEMALE_1: That UN report suggests though that

FEMALE_1: nothing's really going to get done about this,

FEMALE_1: until it starts hurting the economy but by then,

FEMALE_1: it might be too late for the environment.

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