Hourglass running out: Sand becoming scarce world over due to soaring demand


© Getty Images / Randy Faris
The world’s most consumed raw material after water and an essential ingredient to people’s everyday lives is slipping through our fingers, scientists warn. Sand may become a scarce resource due to high demand, they say.


Dozens of trucks dump hundreds of thousands of tons of sand on Miami Beach as part of U.S. government measures to protect Florida’s tourist destinations against the effects of climate change. EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI | AFP | Getty Images


“We just think that sand is everywhere. We never thought we would run out of sand, but it is starting in some places,” a climate scientist with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Pascal Peduzzi said during a webinar hosted by the Chatham House think tank.

“我们总是认为沙子到处都是。我们从来没有想过我们会用完沙子,但在一些地方已经开始出现这种情况了。”联合国环境规划署(UNEP)气候科学家帕斯卡尔·佩杜齐(Pascal Peduzzi)在查塔姆研究所(Chatham House)智库主办的网络研讨会上说。

“It is about anticipating what can happen in the next decade or so because if we don’t look forward, if we don’t anticipate, we will have massive problems about sand supply but also about land planning,” he added.


Construction cranes and vehicles cover the A10 highway between Paris and Bordeaux with sand on November 6, 2019 near Monts, central France. GUILLAUME SOUVANT | AFP | Getty Images

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Peduzzi, who is the director of UNEP’s Global Resource Information Database in Geneva, Switzerland, described the global governance of sand resources as “the elephant in the room.”


“Is it time for panicking? Well, that will certainly not help, but it is time to take a look and change our perception about sand,” he said as quoted by CNBC.


According to Peduzzi, sand use could only be measured indirectly via a “very, very good” correlation between the use of sand and cement.


Sand dunes in the Sahara desert. Getty Images


The UN estimates that 4.1 billion tons of cement is produced every year, driven primarily by China, which accounts for almost 60 percent of today’s sand-fueled construction boom.


Statistics show that it takes ten tons of sand to produce every ton of cement. This means that, for construction alone, the world consumes roughly 40 to 50 billion tons of sand on an annual basis. The amount is enough to build a wall 27 meters high by 27 meters wide that wraps around the planet every year.


The global rate of sand use has tripled over the last two decades, partially due to surging urbanization and industrialization. It far exceeds the natural rate at which sand is being replenished by the weathering of rocks by wind and water.


UNEP has previously warned of thriving “sand mafias,” saying that groups consisting of builders, dealers and businessmen are known to be operating in countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Kenya and Sierra Leone.