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The world needs to rethink ‘sand extraction’: UNEP

  • Published
    27th Apr, 2022
Context

In a new report, UNEP highlighted that the world needs to rethink the extraction and use of sand, the second-most used resource globally, after water.

About

Key findings of the Report:

  • Around 50 billion tonnes of sand and gravel is used every year, which is enough to build a wall 27 metres wide and 27 metres high around Earth.
  • Extracting sand where it plays an active role, such as rivers and coastal or marine ecosystems, can cause a series of damages to the environment. The damages include:
    • Erosion
    • Salination of aquifers
    • Loss of protection against storm surges 
    • Impacts on biodiversity
  • These challenges pose a threat to livelihoods through water supply, food production, fisheries, or to the tourism industry.

Why Sand is important?

  • Sand plays a strategic role in delivering ecosystem services, maintaining biodiversity, supporting economic development, and providing livelihoods within communities.
  • It is linked to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) either directly or indirectly.
  • Despite the strategic importance of sand, its extraction, sourcing, use, and management remain largely ungoverned in many regions of the world, leading to numerous environmental and social consequences that have been largely overlooked.
  • Sand is being used faster than it can be naturally replenished, so its responsible management is crucial.
  • Sand must be recognised as a strategic resource, not only as a material for construction, but also for its multiple roles in the environment.

10 Recommendations to Avert a Crisis:

UNEP’s report provides necessary guidance gathered from world experts to switch to improved practices for the extraction and management of soil. 

  1. Recognise sand as a strategic resource that delivers critical ecosystem services and underpins the construction of vital infrastructure in expanding towns and cities globally.
  2. Include place-based perspectives for just sand transitions, ensuring the voices of all impacted people are part of decision-making, agenda-setting and action.
  3. Enable a paradigm shift to a regenerative and circular future.
  4. Adopt strategic and integrated policy and legal frameworks horizontally, vertically and inter-sectionally, in tune with local, national, and regional realities.
  5. Establish ownership and access to sand resources through mineral rights and consenting.
  6. Map, monitor and report sand resources for transparent, science-based and data-driven decision-making.
  7. Establish best practices and national standards, and a coherent international framework.
  8. Promote resource efficiency & circularity by reducing the use of sand, substituting with viable alternatives and recycling products made of sand when possible.
  9. Source responsibly by actively and consciously procuring sand in an ethical, sustainable, and socially conscious way.
  10. Restore ecosystems and compensate for remaining losses by advancing knowledge, mainstreaming the mitigation hierarchy, and promoting nature-based solutions.
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