- Sand, a natural resource that seems abundant and often ignored is the second most extracted one, just after water.
- Excess extraction of sand from lakes, riverbeds, deltas and shores has destroyed habitats, changed the course of rivers, eroded banks, and swallowed up villages in India and worldwide.
- While the resource is essential in manufacturing and industrial processes, especially in the booming construction industry, rampant extraction has also caused severe damage to human lives and the environment.
Sand, a natural resource that seems abundant and often ignored is the second most extracted one, just after water. Sand extracted from rivers, lakes, coastlines, deltas is one of the most mined materials in the world.
Excess extraction of sand from riverbeds and shores has destroyed habitats, changed the course of rivers, eroded banks, and swallowed up villages in India and worldwide.
Our society is heavily reliant, in fact, built on this resource. The world uses up to 50 billion metric tonnes of sand and gravel, collectively called aggregates, every year. That’s an average of 18 kg per person per day.
Over half of that amount is used by the construction industry to make cement and concrete. And the manufacturing of our smartphones and glass – all need sand.
Sand mining-related operations have taken the lives of several people in India. Rampant sand mining has also been linked to coastal erosion, floods, water scarcity, and the destruction of natural habitats.
In 2016, the Indian government had published guidelines for sustainable sand mining and also proposed methods to curb illegal mining. There are plans to create no-mining zones to protect rivers and those who depend on them. The guidelines emphasise the involvement of the general public and local inhabitants in regulating mining. For now, illegal extraction continues.
While people and ecosystems continue to get affected today due to this essential resource, a big challenge remains – to understand the exact impacts of the industry and to improve monitoring and implement laws, find alternatives and scale its use. According to a United Nations Environment Programme report, the scale of the challenge inherent in sand and gravel extraction makes it one of the major sustainability challenges of the 21st century.
Banner image: Satellite images of a large sandbank (2006 vs. 2020) on the Chambal river that vanished due to rampant sand mining. Maps from Google Earth.