China consumed more sand between 2011 and 2013 than America did in the whole of the 20th century. Now new research, presented today at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference, reveals that Cambodia has been exporting unprecedented amounts of sand to Singapore illegally.
The study shows that coastal sand is quickly becoming one of the most desirable global resources. Singapore and Malaysia are importing colossal amounts of sand to use for land reclamation, as expanding territory into the sea allows these countries to bolster their power in international waters.
University of Ottawa Associate Professor Melissa Marschke and Banting Fellow Laura Schoenberger have over thirty years’ combined experience in South East Asia. They have been researching this emerging and accelerating trend, focusing on Cambodia’s exports to Singapore. Schoenberger told the conference:
“The volume of sand that has been leaving Cambodia over the last ten years is absolutely illegal; way beyond the government’s permitted limits. Small amounts of sand can be legally exported, but Singaporean import figures reveal that this Cambodian resource is clearly, and rapidly, disappearing. It appears that someone with high level connections in the Cambodian government is making a lot of money.”
UN data shows that $752 million US dollars’ worth of sand was imported by Singapore from Cambodia between 2007 and 2016. Cambodian figures claim that the total export worth for the same time period was a mere $5 million.
And also between 2007 and 2016, Singapore trade statistics show that 80.22 million metric tons of sand was imported from Cambodia, compared with the 2.77 million metric tons Cambodia claims was exported to Singapore. Between 2007 and 2017, Singapore imported more sand from Cambodia than any other country.
In 1965, when Singapore gained full independence, its land area was 581 km2 compared with 719 km2 in 2015, an increase of over a fifth.
The impact of extraction is widespread as sand pumping and dredging is taking place across the country. Local people, livelihoods and wildlife are threatened. Coastal erosion has increased, fish stocks are being diverted, and mangrove trees are toppling due to the sheer scale of extraction.
Sand grabbing is highly politicised, and it is unclear if the 2017 government ban on coastal sand mining is being enforced after the national elections that took place in Cambodia in late July.
Cambodian campaign groups such as Mother Nature, who have worked to expose the Cambodian government with social media campaigns, have faced intimidation and arrests. But the demand for coastal sand is set to continue with Singapore’s land area in 2030 predicted to be 30 per cent larger than in 1965, and no sign of the country slowing down its urbanisation and expansion.
1. For further media enquiries, including press passes and interview requests, please contact RGS-IBG’s Press Officer, Giulia Macgarr, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7591 3019.
2. Laura Schoenberger and Melissa Marschke’s presentation is taking place on Friday 31 August at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference at Cardiff University. The conference is being held from August 28 – 31. It is the largest geography conference in Europe, with more than 360 sessions and 1,300 papers being presented. Full details on the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018 can be found at https://www.rgs.org/research/annual-international-conference/
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