A sand mine in Nepal. Growing urbanization and its need for concrete is fuelling a global sand crisis. Credit: Michael Hoffmann, Author provided

Roving bandits and looted coastlines: How the global appetite for sand is fueling a crisis

Next to water, sand is our most consumed natural resource. The global demand for sand and gravel stands between 40 billion and 50 billion tonnes annually, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and its scarcity is an emerging global crisis.

The world may run out of sand if we do not start paying attention to sand as a resource that needs research, management and governance.

The demand for sand is only expected to rise. Sand is also needed to manufacture medical-grade glass vials, which are used to hold vaccines. The industry already faced shortages even before researchers began developing a coronavirus vaccine. And conflicts over sand are emerging in Florida and other seemingly sand-rich areas.

But urbanization and its need for concrete, land infill, asphalt and glass is fueling sand exploitation the most. The global urban population, expected to grow to 5.2 billion by 2030 from 4.4 billion today, will sustain the global construction boom, where sand is the key ingredient for concrete.

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