UNEP calls for sustainable extraction of sand to avert ecological disasters

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Extraction of sand along oceans' shorelines as well as riverbeds must be capped to limit damage to fragile ecosystems and shield coastal communities from storm surges, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a report.

The report, titled "Sand and Sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis" and compiled by UNEP's GRID-Geneva team, on Tuesday reveals that sand was the most exploited resource globally after water, with 50 billion metric tons being harvested annually to build highways and apartment complexes.
Despite playing a crucial role in the delivery of ecosystem services, supporting economic development and providing livelihoods to local communities, harvesting of sand has failed sustainability tests, says the UNEP report, which was launched in Geneva, Switzerland.
It says current extraction exceeds the replenishment rates of naturally occurring sand, adding that unregulated harvesting of sand has often led to salinisation of coastal aquifers, shrinking of deltas, air pollution, besides harming fisheries and tourism sectors, Xinhua news agency reported.
The report acknowledges sand as a strategic resource, key to supporting the construction of roads, homes, schools and hospitals while providing breeding grounds for marine species.
In addition, the report says that limiting the exploitation of sand will be key to attaining the 17 sustainable development goals while boosting action on the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss.
"Our sand resources are not infinite, and we need to use them wisely," says Pascal Peduzzi, the Director of GRID-Geneva at UNEP and overall program coordinator of the report.
"If we can get a grip on how to manage the most extracted solid material in the world, we can avert a crisis and move toward a circular economy," Peduzzi added.
The UNEP report stresses that it was possible to halt unsustainable harvesting of sand once governments enacted progressive legislation while facilitating the uptake of alternatives that were less harmful to the environment.
The report in particular calls for a shift toward a circular economy for sand, including banning landfilling of mineral waste and encouraging sand, to be reused in public procurement contracts.
The use of crushed rock or recycled construction and demolition material alongside ore-sand from mine tailings were cited by the report as viable alternatives to sand.
A revamping of obsolete policy, legal and institutional frameworks was key to improving governance in the management of sand, says the report, adding that enhanced mapping and monitoring of the resource was key to minimising its over-exploitation.20220427-054201

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