In the West Texas plains, frack-sand mines suddenly seem to be popping up everywhere. In 2017, none of these existed. Source: Callaghan O'Hare/Getty

'The coming sand wars': Approaching global crisis people don't know about

The world is heading towards a crisis which threatens to halt the continued construction of modern civilisation. There is, however, a silver lining: this time, we can’t bury our heads in the sand.

That’s because we are running out of it.

Sand has built the world we know today and every year we use around 50 billion tonnes of sand and gravel, and of course, sand is a major component in one of the most useful materials in the world – concrete.

In 2012 alone, the world used enough concrete to build a 27-metre-high, by 27-metre-wide wall around the equator.

Our consumption of the natural resource means we are now extracting sand at a faster rate than it is being replenished, and while a third of the earth’s surface in comprised of deserts, it’s the wrong sand for construction. Desert sand is too round to stick with cement, which is why Dubai imports sand from Australia.

Sand is formed over thousands of years and extraction of the often under appreciated commodity is having a detrimental impact on rivers systems as well as coastal and marine ecosystems all over the world.

“Sand and gravel build the foundations for our economies, finding uses in diverse sectors from construction to electronics to cosmetics,” Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director United Nations Environment Programme wrote in the foreword of a 2019 UN report.

But it’s not just the environment that’s paying the cost of our consumption, people are being killed over sand, as experts increasingly warn about “The coming sand wars”.

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