Sand and gravel are the most mined materials on the planet, with 32 to 50 billion tonnes taken annually. They’re being harvested at a faster rate than they’re being replenished. The human and environmental implications of this extraction on lower and middle-income countries, according to a new study led by experts at McGill University and the University of Copenhagen, have been largely underestimated.
The sand industry directly contradicts nearly half of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in low- and middle-income nations. Sand and gravel mining has a negative influence on the environment, which is incompatible with goals related to ecosystem dynamics. Furthermore, pollution, health-related difficulties, and the informal nature of many mining activities all contribute to societal disparities that harm small-scale miners and their families.
Demand and market prices are rising, resulting in unsustainable exploitation, planning, and trading. Sand removal from rivers and beaches has far-reaching consequences for the environment, infrastructure, national economies, and lifestyles of the 3 billion people who live along river corridors across the world. Unregulated sand mining has been observed in 70 countries around the world, with disputes involving environmental degradation, livelihood disturbance, and breaches of labor rights. Hundreds have reportedly died in recent sand battles, including local residents, police personnel, and government officials.
However, according to the researchers, if properly managed, mining these minerals may provide chances to satisfy some of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They also point out that these resources have the potential to support socio-economic growth in order to achieve some of the UN’s SDGs, such as poverty eradication. Sand and gravel, for example, employ millions of people and offer material for the renewable energy sector as well as roads and infrastructure in general.
When properly managed, sand resources may provide jobs, produce skills that can be transferred to other areas of the economy, and promote innovation and investment, all while supporting the infrastructure that underpins contemporary society. As a result, the solution does not consist of simply prohibiting all mining activity. Finding a balance between the benefits and drawbacks of sand and gravel extraction is becoming one of our century’s greatest resource concerns.
We need to develop effective sand resource management strategies and policies that complement global sustainable development goals. To do so, a better understanding of the effects of sand and gravel mining is necessary. This is especially important for many nations in low- and middle-income regions, where there is currently no understanding of the scope of local mining activities or how they affect ecosystems and local communities.