Sand mining is the practice that is used to extract sand from beaches, inland dunes, Ocean beds or river beds. The mining is in operation in all continents of the globe.
The biggest threat to sand as resource is illegal mining. Sand is an essential resource with respect to construction of building. With new edifices being build every minute, controlling/smuggling a resource like sand can help you make instant money. In addition, Illegal and uncontrolled mining lead to the loss of revenue for the state government and degradation of the environment.
Although in India, the mines and minerals act, 1957, empowered state governments to make rules to prevent illegal mining, transportation and storage of minerals. However, a large number of illegal mining cases can still be seen in the country.
Demand for Sand
In 2020, around 1.4 billion tonnes of sand was used in India. River sand is preferred for construction because, it requires less processing and has better quality than other sources. But it comes at a huge cost to the river and those living around it.
Globally, sand extraction is estimated to be worth £50bn per year. A cubic metre of sand sells for as much as £62 in areas of high demand and scarce supply. As the cities are building, the need for sand is also growing.
Dubai which is situated in the middle of nowhere has 73 buildings more than 200 metres high. Although Dubai has an abundant amount of sand, but it is not ideal for building. To build the tallest building in the world, the UAE had to import the special sand from Australian beaches.
Illegal Sand Mining
Illegal and unscientific sand mining is turning out to be one of the biggest ecological disasters in modern India.
Around 26 people, including journalists and police officers, lost their lives in 2017 while trying to stop illegal sand mining.
This figure is highly underreported and misleading.
Sand Mafias sometimes dismantle the entire beach or an island just in the night.
With the help of excavators and trucks they pollute rivers, habitats of fishes, and farmland.
Many environmentalists, journalists and policemen who try to get in their way face intimidation, threats and death.
Destruction of picturesque beaches causes tourism to dissipate. They serve as habitat for many small animals and plants that are part of the marine and coastal food web and whose loss implies a threat to other species as well.
This isn’t just applicable for seaside but for rivers too. Sand beaches act as embankments to reduce floods. Towns and villages settled around the river face the flooding because it lacks the natural embankment.
Sand dunes are part of the beach system and provide reservoirs of sand that feed the beach during tropical storms and hurricanes. If they are destroyed, coastal lands are vulnerable to flooding. Sand dunes play an important role as barriers against heavy storms, erosion through waves or floods.
Impacts of Sand mining
- Sand Mining degrades the scenic beauties of backwaters, and beaches.
- Coastal erosion causes damage to the properties leading to social discontent. Extraction of beach sand exposes coastal areas to the ravages of erosion.
- Sometimes residues of the radioactive minerals such as monazite and zircon are also left behind.
- Fracking process may cause cancer in silica sand mining areas.
- Large quantities of dust entering into the atmosphere during sand mining cause respiratory disorders.
- Movement of heavy vehicles cause damage to roads and bridges and sometimes cause traffic hazards.
Sand Mining is not just a social issue but also environmental. It damages the ecosystem of rivers, and weakens riverbeds. Our planet is covered in sand. The Sahara Desert alone covers 8% of the land area on the planet, and at 9.2 million km2 which is roughly the same size as China. But, it is functionally useless as the sand, we require is the one found on river and sea beaches.
Minerals are part of a nation’s natural wealth. Sand sustains the rivers and the percolation of water to far off distances for the growth of trees, to sustain drinking water and raise cultivation. It is almost a lifeline to human existence.
Commercial exploitation for short term gains by pumping out the sand indiscriminately from the rivers, dunes and beaches. This exploitation will destroy the whole environment. Sand is everywhere but, we are running out of it and the one we have has the blood of many innocents on it.
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