Unsustainable Sand mining - The Impact on Environment - Seeker's Thoughts

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Unsustainable Sand mining - The Impact on Environment

Aggregate extractions of sand and gravel has led to pollution, flooding, lowering of water aquifers and worsening the drought outcome. India and China head the list of critical hotspots for and extraction impacts in rivers, lakes and on coastlines, most likely because these countries also head globally on infrastructure and construction.

The global demand for sand and gravel stands at 40 to 50 billion tonnes per year.

Sand is used for making glass for the automobile industry, food industry, and household products for the kitchen. Sand is also used for landscape and building materials, and in agriculture.

Sand is used for road construction for creating friction. Even in tiles the sand is used. Therefore, the sand is required in huge quantity.

 According to a report published by UN Environment, due to aggregate extraction in rovers the pollution, flood, reduction of water aquifers and drought occurrence has increased.

The problems created by Sand Extraction

Due to increasing urbanisation and infrastructure development the demand for sand have increased three-fold over the last due to decades.

There is a drastic change in consumption pattern due to growing population around the world.

Sand and gravel are the second largest natural resources extracted after water by least regulated. According to the UNEP it’s one of the major sustainability challenges of the century.

In current scenario growing trend of irresponsible and illegal extraction in marine, coastal and freshwater ecosystem makes this a suitability challenge of significant proportions.

 The report revealed that ecological damage has been witnessed due to a large sand mining as it breaks the natural system. Hydro-electricity production or irrigation is reducing the amount of sediment flowing downstream.

Excessive extraction has reduced sediment delivery from rivers to many coastal areas, leading to reduced deposits in rover deltas and accelerated beach erosion.

What is the transboundary issue of sand extractions?

 Sand extraction has become a transboundary issue due to sand extraction bans, international sourcing of sand for land reclamation projects and impacts of uncontrolled sand extraction beyond national borders. 

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International trade in sand and gravel is growing due to high demand of regions without local sand gravel resources and is forecast to rise 5.5% a year with urbanization and infrastructure developments trends.

Unsustainable sand extraction does not only impact the environment but can also have far reaching social implications. Sand removal from beaches can severely impact on local tourism industries.

Moreover, removing sand from rivers and mangrove forests leads to decrease of crab population and it would negatively be affecting women whose livelihood depends on the collection of crabs.

Report's Finding about India and China

India and China head the list of critical hotspots for and extraction impacts in rivers, lakes and on coastlines, most likely because these countries also head globally on infrastructure and construction.

Two third of global cement production occurs in China (58.5%) and India (6.6%), as per United states geological survey.

China stands out for aggregates production at 14.3 tonnes/capita per year

Social and environmental impacts have been reported in India, China and other locations across Asia, Africa and South America.

Permeable pavements are used in cities around the world, particularly in new cities projects in China and India to reduce surface water runoff volumes and rates by allowing water to infiltrate soil rapidly, helping to reduce flooding while replenishing groundwater reserves.

Why should  Sand be extracted sustainably?

Sand can sustain shear stresses at rest but it can also undergo large plastic deformations without considerable change of its properties, behaving thus like a fluid.

As a product of erosion, sand cannot be broken into parts because it is already a broken (‘clastic’) material.

The pronounced deformability of sand gave rise not only to a large diversity of experimental investigations in Soil Mechanics but rendered also sand a model material for physical simulations of deformation processes of the earth crust: Sand box models serve to simulate not only folding and faulting processes of the earth crust but also processes of deformation of the earth mantle.

There are also similarities between magma volcanism and the so-called sand boils or sand volcanoes that appear subsequent to liquefaction of water-saturated loose sand.

The complex behaviour of sand is a permanent object of study not only by Soil Mechanics but —in recent time— also by Physics.

Importance of Sand and Gravel in Our Lives

Sand and gravel is large business, meeting the many demands for growing cities. Form residential, commercial, and municipal construction to paving roads and residential driveways, these aggregates play a major role in our lives.

Sand and gravel aggregates have various uses, including their use in mixing cement materials such as concrete, mortar, and plaster. Many construction projects wouldn't be what they are today without these valuable resources.

These aggregates are also important in the natural world. They form the foundation for bodies of water, such as lakes riverbeds. And countless species of wildlife depend on these aggregates for their habitats.

A way forward

There is a need to get alert that to meet demand in a world of 10 billion people without harming the environment.

Effective policy, planning, regulations and management will be needed to sustain the environment. There is a need to get proper data about all the extractions. ethical practices are needed to curb irresponsible and illegal extraction.

Substitute of sand

Manufactured sand blended with natural in the ratio of 70:30 can be used as fine aggregate in concrete, which shows the better performance than conventional concrete. If the sand is replaced with 100% manufactured sand, it performs as like conventional concrete. Fly ash also can be used as fine aggregate.

A little glance about UN Environment

Environment is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without comprising that of future generations. UN Environment works with governments, the private sector, civil society and with other UN entities and international organizations across the world.

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