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UN warns of global sand shortages

Home Mining & Quarrying UN warns of global sand shortages

By Nico Pienaar, Director ASPASA

THE United Nations has called for urgent action to prevent a sand crisis as worldwide demand surges. Centuries of unregulated sand usage have left vast tracts of the world without useable construction sand that threatens to bring future construction projects to a halt.

“The needs and expectations of our societies cannot be met without improved governance of sand resource. If we act now, it is still possible to avoid a sand crisis,” said Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, director of the Economy Division at UNEP.

Local protection

Nico Pienaar of the Surface Mining Industry Association (ASPASA) says timely interventions in recent decades mean that South Africa’s sand resources are better managed than before.

Industry leaders and stakeholders took matters into their own hands in the 90s to self-regulate the industry and manage resources for future generations. Full government recognition of ASPASA also led to close cooperation between the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, ASPASA members and labour. This paved the way for a more sustainable sand industry.

Emerging threats

There are still major challenges and emerging threats to our sand sanctity.  Illegal mining and organised crime are top of the list.  There is also concern about poor enforcement of regulation and local bylaws, which prejudices legal and compliant operations.

Politicking in municipalities often opens the door to illegal operations and borrow-pit mining with municipalities themselves breaking the law to make use of ‘freely’ available sand and aggregates. This also applies to the equally harmful practices of river sand and beach sand mining, as well as unnecessary borrow pits that are tolerated – even where legal quarries exist nearby.

If law enforcement keeps turning a blind eye to these indiscretions we will most certainly lose the fight, and our legal operations will cease to exist. If this were to happen South Africa may lose the ability to provide quality and graded materials for large-scale infrastructure projects and will certainly run out of sand resources sooner than we think.

Future uncertain

Nico adds that the country has resources that will last for the foreseeable future provided sustainable practices are adopted and enforced now.

The country has the expertise, resources and capital funding needed to ensure the industry’s longevity, provided the scales aren’t tipped in favour of illegal and informal operations that are sprouting around the country.

Government and the private sector can easily ensure that they are working with legal and sustainable operations by simply dealing with ASPASA members who have been audited and follow all licensing requirements, including health, safety and environmental legislation.

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