The upcoming market that is destroying livelihoods


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 (Accessed May 2021)

Analysis Discussion

Spatial Inequality – A Conversation That We Need To Start


By definition, spatial inequality is the unequal distribution of resources and services across different areas or locations, such as healthcare, welfare, public services, household income, and infrastructure. The distribution of such characteristics over space can be described in terms of proximity, distance, clustering, and concentration, according to Wikipedia.

Why Spatial Inequality is a Problem

Over time, spatial inequality has led to strong divisions, not only across borders but also within local communities. Currently, in Nairobi, over 60% of the population lives on less than 5% of the land- creating large economic disparities. The poorer population lives with inadequate living standards, which includes minimal access to important services such as healthcare and education. Most would agree that this is a direct result of colonialism, where colonizers segregated people by race, level of income, and many more factors. 

Causes of Spatial Inequality

However, it is arguable that income inequality and economic disparities have been one of the main driving forces behind spatial inequality. In Nairobi, for example, more than 65% of the population (around 3.5 million people) live within the informal sector. The advantage of the informal economy is that it provides income and employment to people, regardless of education and experience. These are qualities that the formal economy is deemed to be reliant on. However, the informal economy has costs, also. Many of those who are forced to work within the informal sector — in jobs such as street vendors, flea, and food markets — have had to rely on this unstable source of income, a result that can be traced back directly to unequal access to services such as education. 

The densely populated slum communities within Africa are the home of millions of citizens throughout the continent. However, since these homes have been set up quickly, without building regulations and without being previously planned by the city councils, important services were not set up. These important services could potentially cater to the new settlers, educating them so that one day they can acquire a job within the formal sector, thus removing them from this constant cycle of poverty.

Efforts to Combat Spatial Inequality

Currently, schools that have sprouted within slum settlements are being bulldozed, as the local government aims to rid cities of “informal settlements.” Unfortunately, they are failing to do so miserably. In 2018, the headline “Schools for 2000 children in Kenya’s Kibera slum bulldozed to the ground” hit the media and news outlets, showing the world that rather than helping combat income and spatial inequality, governments were willing to destroy livelihoods in an attempt to rid the city of the ‘problem’ — namely, the informal sector.


It is important to understand the risk and the impact that both spatial and income inequality can have on the livelihoods of those who live within these make-shift settlements. It is imperative that we combat this issue, in similar ways that one would address racial or gender inequality. I hope that one day we can live in a world where no parent has to worry about being able to feed their children; a world where children can dream about what they want to be when they grow up; a world where home is not a temporary shelter, but a place where love and happiness can thrive.


Weekly Summaries

14th of December – 20th of December

Climate pledge from China

China is the largest contributor to CO2 emissions worldwide. Now, however, China’s leader Xi Jinping has taken a step against climate change by announcing — on the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement — that China would reduce its carbon intensity over 65% by 2030.

New laws in Hungary threaten civil liberties

This past Tuesday the Hungarian government passed new laws which severely restrict the rights of gay people. For example, one of the constitutional amendments that was made defines a family as including a man as the father and a woman as the mother, effectively preventing gay couples from adopting children. Other measures which were introduced make it more difficult for opposition parties to challenge the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, in future elections and also make an overview of public spending more difficult.

Boko Haram kidnaps young boys

This week gunmen raided a secondary boarding school in the northern Nigerian province of Katsina and took more than 300 young boys captive. The leader of the Boko Haram has now claimed responsibility. However, late Thursday night the state governor announced that all boys would be released and reunited with their parents.

Other news:

  • Britain and the European Union have agreed to extend their trade negotiations. The initial deadline was this past Sunday (the 13th of December).
  • On the 13th of December the White House announced that hackers from a foreign country had broken into multiple key government systems. 
  • The Electoral College confirmed Biden as the next US president on Monday
  • Somalia cuts diplomatic ties with Kenya
  • President Macron of France tested positive for the coronavirus