What do houses, streets, telephones and microchips have in common? They all contain processed sand. The Developing South Asian and African countries are raising the alarm because of their disappearing beaches and river beds.
The sand mafia is emboldened by political support throughout India, within 50 km of any construction site, there is likely to be sand mining going on along river banks and coastal areas. The sand-hungry construction industry uses river bed sand to mix with concrete and for making bricks, as construction is now contributing almost 10% to gross domestic product. It’s a quick buck-making industry with very little investment. All you need is a truck, labourers, a driver, and a place to go and mine, a cut for police (thullas, cronies and their neta agents) keeps them happy as ever.
The coasts of Ghana and Kenya, as well as those of Cape Verde and Zanzibar, are lined by picturesque beaches strewn with the finest sand making them perfect postcard idylls. But what if Africa's dream beaches suddenly lost their sand and only had dirt and gravel to offer?
Many attacks have been perpetrated by the sand mafia, activists and Government officers have been threatened at gunpoint, attacked and killed all over the country. A short term trick is to find an environment friendly substitute for sand, until then, expect illegal sand mining to continue, whether followed by mainstream media or not. In longer term, a culture of hating quick buck making messiahs will bring real change.
Zanzibar has less and less sand due to excessive use of sand for construction projects in the semi-autonomous archipelago that forms part of Tanzania. Official statistics from the Department of Forestry and Non-Renewable Natural Resources show that almost 3 million tons of sand were mined on Zanzibar between 2005 and 2015. This amount equals around 120000 full truckloads and bucks for the "mafia of development messiahs"!
This is only the official mining. Unofficial numbers could be many times. Liberal Mining Permits: Big business, loose regulation!
It is not only African cement works which profit from the exploitation of sand. One of the main customers for African sand is the desert country of Dubai, which wants to enlarge its coast. For a fancy island project "The Palm Jumeirah” alone, 200 million cubic meters of sand and stone were used. Some of the sand was taken from the sea off Dubai's own coast but a large amount came from African beaches.