Human greed is ravaging the earth, wiping out billions and millions of years-old-management systems, making extinct millions of species, forever changing the world’s landscape. Rapacious greed for the urbanisation of the planet is unsettling the earth to the point that alarmists have justification in arguing a future tumult of scarcity wars, never-before-seen ‘natural’ disasters, civil strife and the loss of human life not just in the millions but in the billions.

Singapore has expanded its coastline, increasing its territory by more than 20 per cent in the last half century, but at the expense of some of its neighbouring States. Singapore has expanded its territory by more than 130 square kilometres, with another 100 square kilometres to be completed by 2030. They have manifested this land mass with what should have remained generally unimaginable quantities of sand.

Densely populated Singapore does not have the sand hills or reserves to have extracted the quantities of sand that was needed. The sand has been imported from neighbouring poor nations – Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia, but these countries have now banned sand exports. The excavation of what should have always remained unimaginable quantities of sand has caused irreparable environmental degradation to whole regions of these nations – resulting in the loss of ecosystems and in the relocation of human habitats. But because of extreme poverty, sand smuggling occurs with traffickers loading up to 3,000 tonnes of sand on their boats and chartering them towards eager Singapore and other nations. Companies have set themselves up to profit from the increasingly scarce resource – indeed there are now sand mafias.

But sand smuggling alone cannot meet humanity’s increasing demand for sand, which after water is the most in demand resource. Sand is cheap but in huge quantities is lucrative for exporters and the carpetbaggers, the middle agents, those who on sell to Governments and the profit-driven developers. Australia, a once seemingly limitless source of sand is one of the hugest suppliers of sand to south east Asian developers and to ironically sand-hungry Dubai. But to meet the huge demand that even the vast continent of Australia alone cannot provide sand is dredged from sea beds. Not all sand is the grade required for construction or for technology – the Sahara’s sand, like the sand of the Saudi peninsula, is too fine to be used in construction. The fineness of Sahelian and Saudi sand is in fact dangerous, and would lead to the inevitable collapse of buildings, unlike the rough and heavier sand of Australian beaches or that from the earth’s sea beds.

Expensive $100 million to $200 million gigantic tankers dredge sand from ocean beds, up to 300,000 tonnes of sand to a load. The dredging causes environmental disturbances, shifts to the sea beds that have cumulatively led to the disappearance of islands, to rising sea levels that have seen coastlines disappear – for instance in the Maldives. It is not just human induced climate change that is threatening the world’s coastlines but also the human greed for unsustainable extraction of resources, in this instance, sand.

Sand trafficking is huge, on every continent, from the beaches and coastlines of Morocco to south-east Asia, but the multinational robber barons do it every day, dredging it from the planet’s sea beds and similarly so profiteers extracting from the coastline of every nation. Countries which have banned sand exporting and who try to regulate sand mining are undermined by wealthy nations with an insatiable demand for sand and who do knowingly allow for the setting up of shelf companies whose prescribed purpose is other, but a guise to illegally import sand, brought in by ships officially designated for other purposes to the sand they carry and which they offload at the port – in front of not only the port authorities but effectively in front of the Governments who have instructed that there shall be a turning of a blind eye and even a helping hand where needed.

Singapore is one of the nations who depend on the illegal trade, and who like Japan with its whaling con for far too long, can only be seen to be lying when they argue that they do not condone sand trafficking and that they respect their ASEAN neighbours. Far too many wealthy nations are artificially extending their land mass and engaging various largesse, such as with tourism wonders and ostentatious living, but by taking effectively the land away from under the feet of others.

The environmental damage of the sand trade has been excruciatingly damaging, with Cambodians having been forced off their lands and out of their communities because of the sand mining, the dredging, the destruction to their rivers and streams. Other communities that have not been relocated languish in environmental degradation and in extreme poverty.

Dubai’s artificial palm island coastline adds 56 kilometres of coastline to the little nation’s 72 km coastline. No island this size had ever been built before – and all of it with sand – 94 million cubic metres of sand. Is there enough sand in this world to go around without degrading environments and without unbalancing the eco-defences of the earth?

The Sand Wars was produced in 2013, directed by Spanish filmmaker, Denis Delestrac. “Most of us think of (sand) as a complimentary ingredient of any beach vacation. Yet those seemingly insignificant grains of silica surround our daily lives. Every house, skyscraper and glass building, every bridge, airport and sidewalk in our modern society depends on sand.”

“We use it to manufacture optical fibre, cell phone components and computer chips. We find it in our toothpaste, powdered foods and even in our glass of wine.”

“Is sand an infinite resource? Can the existing supply satisfy a gigantic demand fuelled by construction booms?”

“What are the consequences of intensive beach sand mining for the environment and the neighbouring populations?”

“Based on encounters with sand smugglers, barefoot millionaires, corrupt politicians, unscrupulous real estate developers and environments, this investigation takes us around the globe to unveil a new gold rush and a disturbing fact, (that) the Sand Wars have begun.”

The Sand Wars was first broadcast in May last year in France and Germany and the documentary inspired the United Nations Environment Programme to publish a Global Environment Alert in March 2014 titled ‘Sand, rarer than one thinks’. But the United Nations has never been in a position to positively change the world for the better to where it reaches a point that it outpaces the damage and the carnage. The ‘alert’ has gone out but the sand mining continues to increase in volume.

Despite sand used in every corner and crevice of the world, despite it being in far too many daily products to list – no electronic chip can be manufactured without high quality sand – it is construction that has the most voracious appetite for sand. In the last 150 years the human craft of construction has changed the landscape of the planet, but we are running out of sand.

It takes about 200 tonnes of sand to build an average sized house, 3000 tonnes for a large sized public building. It takes 30,000 tonnes for each kilometre of highway. It takes an estimated 12 million tonnes of sand to construct an average sized nuclear reactor. There are more than 400 nuclear reactors on the planet with the nuclear industry aspiring to thousands more reactors by 2100. Tens of billions of tonnes of sand are used each year, more than any other resource – with the exception of water.

Dennis Delestrac reports that by the end of the 21st century, beaches will be a thing of the past. This is the alarming forecast of a growing number of scientists and environmental NGOs. Sand has become a vital commodity for our modern economies. It is not just that we will be looking for alternatives to the sand that we take for granted today but we will also have to deal with the impacts that the tempest of human greed will tumult upon humanity – rising sea levels, erosion, environmental degradation and ‘natural’ disasters, cataclysmic stuff.

Sand Wars trailer

Interview with Denis Delastrac – the world running out of sand


Shifting sand