Disappearing Sand for 'Buildings' Could Lead to Death of Civilization

Published August 8th, 2018 - 03:00 GMT
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)
(Shutterstock/ File Photo)
Burj Khalifa sparkles under the sun of Dubai desert. The 828-meter-high tower, which was opened eight years ago, has become the highest on the planet. The construction required 330,000 cubic meters of concrete, which consists mostly of sand.

Alongside Burj Khalifa stand cranes stretching out in the sky to build new towers with other record heights. Construction is spread worldwide, not just in the United Arab Emirates.

The demand on sand and pebbles has alarmed experts. Concerns turned into reality in Jamaica, where a 400-meter beach disappeared overnight without a trace in 2008. Thieves stole the sand of the beach and they have yet to be caught. Media at the time speculated that the sand was either used to fill another beach or in construction.

"Sands are the foundation of our civilized society," explained Aurora Torres, a researcher at the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research.

Torres published the results of her research on the impacts of sand extraction on biological ecosystems last year in the journal Science. 

She said that most people do not realize the “disaster that threatens them. Citizens may not pay attention to this situation, however, international organizations have been increasingly interested in it in the past few years.”

“Human lives are literally based on the sand,” she added.

Quartz granules have become the most widely used natural material in the world after water, because sand is not only involved in construction, but in almost everything.

Silicon dioxide extracted from the sand is also used in the manufacture of wines and many other food commodities. 

“Sand is the great star of our industrial and electronic age,” said an article by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. The world's need for sand far exceeds what it produces from weathering factors. 

“The amount of sand people need has tripled in the last 20 years,” said Pascal Peduzzi of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). 

Peduzzi has long warned from the consequences of this growing sand consumption.

“We estimate the current consumption of sand at about 50 billion tons per year, or 18 kilograms per day per each inhabitant on Earth," he revealed.

Of course, not all buildings devour such amounts of sand as standard-sized buildings in the UAE do, but building a one-family house needs an estimated 200 tons of sand. 

“The consumption of sand in one year is enough to fill a 27-meter high and wide wall around the equator," he said.

Someone may have once said that the world’s deserts have enough of this highly demanded material, however, the problem is that desert sands are not suitable for the concrete industry, as its grains have become round and soft by the wind, which makes them hard to cement. 

Burj Khalifa owners were forced to import huge amounts of sand required to build the tower from Australia.

Giant sand diggers are used to extract sand ton by ton from the seabed as well as lakes and rivers. The consequences are often catastrophic for sensitive ecosystems, where rivers run low, coasts become eroded, marine life in the oceans is destroyed, entire islands disappear and protection mechanisms designed to withstand storms and tsunamis are destroyed.

Spanish newspaper El Pais said Indonesia, for example, was losing more and more parts of its territory due to non-restricted sand extraction. The newspaper pointed out that more than 20 touristic islands in this archipelago had disappeared.

Europe has also been affected by this phenomenon. Shores of the Canary Islands have vanished because of sand import from the desert of North Africa, the newspaper reported.

According to statistics, the United States is the largest source of sand in the world, while the largest importer is Singapore, known for its sparkling malls and giant buildings. Germany is the eighth largest importer of sand.

Many countries, especially in southeast Asia, have banned the export of sand. However, trade of this natural material continues, but illegally.
This article has been adapted from its original source.

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