“We just think that sand is everywhere. We never thought we would run out of sand, but it is starting in some places,” a climate scientist with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Pascal Peduzzi said during a webinar hosted by the Chatham House think tank.
“It is about anticipating what can happen in the next decade or so because if we don’t look forward, if we don’t anticipate, we will have massive problems about sand supply but also about land planning,” he added.
Peduzzi, who is the director of UNEP’s Global Resource Information Database in Geneva, Switzerland, described the global governance of sand resources as “the elephant in the room.”
“Is it time for panicking? Well, that will certainly not help, but it is time to take a look and change our perception about sand,” he said as quoted by CNBC.
According to Peduzzi, sand use could only be measured indirectly via a “very, very good” correlation between the use of sand and cement.
The UN estimates that 4.1 billion tons of cement is produced every year, driven primarily by China, which accounts for almost 60 percent of today’s sand-fueled construction boom.
Statistics show that it takes ten tons of sand to produce every ton of cement. This means that, for construction alone, the world consumes roughly 40 to 50 billion tons of sand on an annual basis. The amount is enough to build a wall 27 meters high by 27 meters wide that wraps around the planet every year.
The global rate of sand use has tripled over the last two decades, partially due to surging urbanization and industrialization. It far exceeds the natural rate at which sand is being replenished by the weathering of rocks by wind and water.
UNEP has previously warned of thriving “sand mafias,” saying that groups consisting of builders, dealers and businessmen are known to be operating in countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Kenya and Sierra Leone.
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