Sand is the second most used natural commodity, whose relative importance in the global market has increased drastically in the past half a century, due to the substantial increase in demand for materials in which sand is a major contributor. The number of people living in urban areas has more than quadrupled since 1950, to over 4.5 billion today. The UN predicts that another 2.5 billion people will join the 4.5 billion people already living in cities within the next 3 decades.
The increasing demand for sand
Therefore, the demand for sand has increased. An example of this is within the construction industry, where sand is used to provide strength to materials such as asphalt, mortar, and concrete. However, due to the world’s ever-increasing population, there is forever an increase in the demand for sand-based materials used to increase supply for buildings and infrastructure. To meet these demands, many billions of tonnes of sand are used worldwide annually, so much so that a UN report estimated that the global sand use in 2012 alone could have created a concrete wall 27m high by 27m wide around the equator.
Effects of increasing demand for sand
Although sand is associated with its trivial use of constructing sandcastles on holiday as a child, or in the play area at your local park, it is a necessity to keep global river systems intact, a resource that we certainly take for granted. As innocent as sand may seem, the incredible demand for it is causing loss of livelihoods, loss of ecosystems, and is even a cause of death around the world.
As described by an article written by the BBC, in Kenya, the over-dredging of the local riverbeds in poor, rural counties such as Makueni, is leaving some communities without access to drinking water, subsequently leading to the eventual deaths of many locals. Kenya, alongside many other African countries, is known for its seasonal, sand-filled rivers due to its desert biome. When heavy rainfall occurs, the sand allows water to percolate, and therefore acts as a natural store for water flow, providing a water source for the surrounding villages. However, once these rivers are dredged by companies and governments who wish to sell this commodity, only the bedrock — a relatively impermeable surface — remains, causing no water to be stored and surrounding land to be flooded. It is important to understand that many thousands of people rely on such natural resources of water to live. While companies continue to exploit indigent areas, many are left without the means to survive.
Furthermore, the increased demand for sand has led to it becoming a highly desired commodity, which subsequently has encouraged unofficial markets to emerge. An example is India’s black market for sand harvesting, which is operated by violent sand mafias. There have been many reports of killings, in a growing wave of violence sparked by the global desire to own one of the worlds’ most under-appreciated commodities. Many hope to purloin sand, through methods of violence in order to export this product in unofficial markets. Based on the law of demand and supply, when there is increased demand, there is an increase in the price. As the price elasticity of demand for sand is relatively elastic this provides mafias and other rogue organizations the power to gain significant funds from the export of such product.
For some, sand is just a means to an end; a way to exploit yet another non-renewable resource (a skill our population has, sadly, acquired profoundly), but for many, sand protects their village, their livelihood.
BBC, September 2017. How the demand for sand is killing rivers. Available at https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-41123284. (Accessed May 2021)