(Reuters) - From Shanghai to Seattle, the world’s cities are built on massive amounts of sand.
It’s in the cement and concrete that make up the bulk of buildings. The glass in the windows of those buildings is made with sand, too, as is the tarmac on the roads around them.
(Open tmsnrt.rs/3pCXVcZ in an external browser to view an interactive graphic on sand mining.)
Sand is the planet’s most mined material, with some 50 billion tons extracted from lakes, riverbeds, coastlines and deltas each year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
Demand for sand is only expected to grow, as the global population continues to climb, cities expand and countries further develop. But in much of the world, sand mining faces little to no government scrutiny.
This means that it is being extracted far quicker than it is naturally replaced, causing environmental damage and, in some cases, jeopardising livelihoods.
Damage from sand extraction can be seen clearly in satellite images, with coastlines eroded, ecosystems destroyed, and even small islands in Southeast Asia entirely wiped off the map.
Rivers have faced major environmental disruption, including the erosion of riverbanks to the point where they collapse, and the destruction of breeding habitats for riverine animals including birds and crocodiles.
Scientists have called for a global programme to monitor and manage the sand mining industry as a first step to controlling the plunder. Standardising the industry would also mean miners don’t have to become criminals to operate.
“This isn’t an issue that’s relevant for only some places. Sand is a critical material for every country,” said ecologist Aurora Torres at the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Belgium, who researches how sand mining can affect both the natural world and people’s well-being.
Reporting by Marco Hernandez, Simon Scarr and Katy Daigle; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Karishma Singh
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