A global sand grab is wrecking ecosystems and communities around the world

Tess Vigeland PRI 21 Jul 18;

Deep in rural Cambodia, Chan Vanna pushes his longtail boat through the calm waters of the Koh Kong estuary. Until about 10 years ago, Vanna made a living fishing here, providing for his wife, Wid, and their seven children. Then one day, he says, giant machines showed up at their small inlet and started dredging sand from the bottom of the river.

“They never discussed with our community,” Vanna says. “They came to dredge and the land fell down. And the water became deep.”

The land “fell down” because the dredging caused the riverbanks to wash away.

Now, Vanna says, there are no fish, because without any shallow water, they have nowhere to spawn.

On the nearby shore, small, gaunt children dance to a boombox while the adults snack on longan fruit. They, too, have lost their livelihoods. One of the men, Sa Lee, points to the other side of the river.

The water here “used to be maybe half a meter deep,” he says, “so we could cross over.”

No more. The water is now 10 meters deep — almost 100 feet. What was once a creek is now a wide river. Sa says many of the trees that protected the land have died. Even the crocodiles left.

It’s a scene that’s been repeated throughout coastal Cambodia for a decade. And not just here, but also in Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar and Malaysia and beyond. Rampant and often illegal dredging is part of a global sand grab that has made sand the second-most widely consumed natural resource after water.

“Cities are basically built out of sand,” says Vince Beiser, author of the forthcoming book “The World In A Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization.” “Every concrete building that you see, every mile of asphalt road between those building, all the windows in all those buildings, it’s all made from sand.”

Quartz sand, in particular — the kind usually found on beaches and in rivers — is used in concrete construction worldwide. And there’s an unprecedented demand for it. The skylines of Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City are unrecognizable from just a few years ago. Same with newly-urban areas in India and throughout Africa, not to mention the insta-cities popping up all over China.

It’s the same urbanization that happened in the West over the course of a century, says Beiser. But it’s happening way too fast for nature to keep up, and in places where there isn’t a lot of government oversight.

“There are fewer regulations to protect the environment, and in a lot of places there just isn’t as much enforcement because there’s a lot of corruption,” Beiser says. “And in some places, like India in particular, the business has become so lucrative that a lot of the business is actually controlled by what they call 'sand mafias.'”

Here in Southeast Asia, much of the finger-pointing about sand is directed at Singapore. But it’s not just about new buildings. The island city-state itself has expanded by 20 percent over the last 50 years, purely through sand-based land reclamation.

“Singapore didn’t have its own resources of sand, so it had to take it from their neighbors,” says Alex Davidson of Mother Nature Cambodia, an activist group that started protesting sand exports a few years ago. “And of course they took it from places like Koh Kong where there’s corruption, a lot of communities can be repressed.”

Under pressure from groups like Mother Nature, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia have recently banned sand exports to Singapore.

For its part, the Singaporean government says all of its sand imports from around Southeast Asia have been legal. But it doesn’t seem eager to talk about the issue. The Ministry of National Development declined requests for an interview. But it knows it has a sand problem.

“It’s becoming an embarrassment to Singapore that we are importing so much sand at the expense of our neighbors,” says Singaporean engineer Lim Soon Heng, looking out across the city’s Marina Bay, an area that not long ago didn’t exist.

“Where we are now is all reclaimed land,” he says.

Even after all its recent growth, Singapore’s government estimates it will need to add another 22 square miles to its current borders to accommodate population growth. Lim runs a company that is trying to convince the city-state to do some of that expansion with floating pontoons.

Pontoon technology uses a lot less sand than traditional land reclamation. It’s already being used in massive port projects in the US and Europe, and even in one project here, an entertainment and sports venue.

But it’s been a tough sell.

“The reception is not very overwhelming because [people] don’t understand," Lim says. "They say, ‘It’s not safe, it will wobble around.’ Well, you can see the structure there is not wobbling.”

The jury is still out on pontoon building here. But other less sand-intensive approaches to expanding Singapore might catch on. Among other things, the government has hired a Dutch company to develop one new site using a method called poldering, which encloses and drains part of the seabed rather than filling it.

Meanwhile, scientists are working on new kinds of building materials for all those new structures. Some would use less sand than concrete, others would use different kinds of sand that are less environmentally sensitive.

It’s not like cities are going to stop building, and Vince Beiser says the real question is how to do it sustainably, instead of turning sand into something of a new sort of conflict mineral.

“Quartz sand is literally the most abundant thing on the planet," Beiser says. "We have more of it than we have anything else. And if we’re running out [of] that, which we are, we’re really in trouble.“

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Three years without haze, but Singapore should not celebrate just yet

ANG PENG HWA Today Online 20 Jul 18;

It has been good news regarding the haze for the third year since 2015. In the past two years, there has been little need to use the air purifier.

This year promises to be as haze-free as the previous years—the promise having come from Dr Bambang Brodjonegoro, the Indonesian Minister for National Development in his speech at the 5th Global Dialogue on World Resources here in May.

So what brought about this positive climate change?

First, boycott and the threat of boycott.

In 2015, the European Union threatened to boycott palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia, reflecting how the governments of developed countries are much more attuned to environmental concerns because their citizens are.

At various points in 2015, various parties in the EU had also talked of boycotts of Indonesian paper, palm oil and in the extreme, any product from Indonesia.

These threats certainly got the attention of the Indonesian and Malaysian governments.

One company that was the subject of the high-profile boycott in 2015 was Asia Pulp and Paper (APP).

Its paper products were pulled off all the supermarkets in Singapore at the urging of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Singapore Environmental Council.

That story made a global splash.

Second, the Singapore Government’s procurement policy requirement for environmental certification.

The Singapore Government could not call for a boycott that Case could.

But it could achieve a similar result by requiring that all Government departments procure paper only from companies with green certification, which APP did not have.

Government-linked entities that follow the procurement policy also adopted the new guideline.

Third, some credit must go to the Indonesian government, especially at the federal level.

It has shown itself serious about fighting the haze.

In 2015, President Joko Widodo along with several ministers visited Riau and other parts of Indonesia.

In early 2016, President Jokowi promulgated rules that accelerated efforts in the One Map Initiative.

The lack of clear maps was a comfort to offending companies as it gave them cover to blame others for the fires that caused the haze.

Indonesian courts and legislators have also been more serious about enforcement.

The Riau Chief of Police was summoned to the Indonesian House of Representatives and replaced in 2016 after closing investigations of companies alleged to have set fires during the 2015 haze.

Last year, PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (Rapp), a major supplier of Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (April), was barred from resuming operations in part of the peatland it owned.

This was a refreshing break from the past when large companies very often got their way.

Fourth, the Asian Games will be held in both Palembang and Jakarta from August 18 to September 2.

Many people speculate that this is the most important reason for the clear skies over South Sumatra.

It does show though that the haze can be “regulated” if there is political will.

It also suggests that like the fires that burn in the peat soil underground, there were actions taken behind the scenes during the past few years when there was no haze.

Sources say that the major palm oil and paper plantations have been told by a major international investor to work out compliance issues to eliminate the fires that cause the haze.

The attention to the haze has raised awareness that air quality has a major impact on one’s life quality.

For the younger set, poor air quality reduces oxygen levels, which impacts development.

For older folks, the small smoke particles that enter the lungs may be impossible to remove. We would be wise to continue to take measures that can help reduce if not eliminate the haze.

And as the past few years has shown, every one of us can. Consumer action can have some results.

We can each take care to read labels to ensure that the products we buy are sustainably sourced.

Yes, it is possible to buy cheaper products but it makes no sense to do so when in reality the products are cheaper only because they cost you your life.

It is indeed cheaper to clear land through burning— a can of petrol and a match coupled with nature can clear land that would take several days by hand.

Buying only green-labelled products is one way that consumers can have a hold to ensure that companies are compliant.

So reading the labels is a significant part of the battle.

Looking ahead, the sustainability policies of financial institutions should be a key focus of efforts to combat haze.

The aim is to choke off the money that companies need to finance their growth.

Financial sustainability policies are available but our local banks have given themselves till 2019 to draw up a common set of policies.

Finally, the possibility of consumers and those affected by forest fires suing errant companies should not be dismissed.

It is a weapon in the arsenal that we cannot overlook in battling haze.

Should the haze return in a significant way, the Haze Elimination Action Team volunteer group will be putting out statements on the data that consumers and potential plaintiffs should take note of in preparation for filing such suits.

Defeating the haze requires battling on many fronts because its origin is multi-faceted. So if we can breathe easier this year, it does not mean we may be as fortunate the next. This calls for us to be ready to act when needed.

We all can make a difference in fighting the haze.


Ang Peng Hwa, a communications professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, is a co-founder of the Haze Elimination Action Team volunteer group. This is adapted from a piece which first appeared on the group’s Facebook page.

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Record turnout at 3 green events with $30b of deals

24k people attend World Cities, CleanEnviro summits, S'pore International Water Week
Jose Hong Straits Times 21 Jul 18;

More than 24,000 people from 110 countries and regions descended on Marina Bay Sands for three sustainability events last week that resulted in almost $30 billion worth of projects, investments and memorandums of understanding (MOUs) being announced or signed.

The World Cities Summit, Singapore International Water Week and the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore saw global leaders, academics, scientists and business people discussing sustainability challenges, strategies and solutions.

The 24,000 people who attended the biennial gathering, held from July 8 to 12 and staged during the Year of Climate Action for Singapore, made it the largest on record. In 2016, there were 21,000 people.

Big names this year included former United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon and renowned US environmental microbiologist Rita Colwell.

The lion's share of the deals, about $23 billion, came during the Singapore International Water Week, including 18 World Bank water projects in East Asia and the Pacific worth $3.5 billion.

At the Special Asean Ministerial Meeting on Climate Action, a regional platform hosted by Singapore, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli launched the Climate Action Package, a range of Singapore-led programmes running until 2020 to help Asean nations tackle climate change.

The CleanEnviro Summit Singapore saw more than $5 billion in projects and business deals announced. The World Cities Summit attracted around 130 mayors and leaders from 128 cities for talks on how urban areas could be made more liveable and sustainable.

The World Bank and Singapore Land Authority signed an MOU to promote the greater use of geospatial information and technology to better optimise land resources, among other things. Geospatial information is data related to the position of things on the Earth's surface.

"The strong show of support from city leaders, industry experts and leading academics alike bear testament to the increasing prestige and appeal of the World Cities Summit as the leading international platform for urban sustainability conversations and innovations," said Mr Michael Koh, joint spokesman for all three sustainability events.

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Malaysia: Is the haze making a return this year?

Mohd Roji Kawi New Straits Times 20 Jul 18;

KUCHING: The haze could be making a return to our shores following the week-long hot spell.

Making matters worse, the hot weather which has also struck West Kalimantan, Indonesia, has also triggered numerous forest fires in the neighbouring country.

According to Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Unit, a total of 194 hotspots have been detected in West Kalimantan as of yesterday evening.

From the total, 69 were 'high' hot spots; 47 were rated 'moderate' while the rest were deemed normal.

Based on previous experience, the existence of hotspots, caused by forest fires, were among main triggers for the haze phenomenon.

Open-burning activities in Indonesia's agricultural areas have also compounded matters.

Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department director, Nor Hisham Mohamad said, from Sunday to 8am today, 112 cases of forest, bush and peat fires have been reported in the state.

The most severe peat fire incident is taking place in the Tabung Haji oil palm plantation in Simunjan, involving a blaze affecting a 10-hectare area.

"We have deployed a team to monitor a hotspot location detected in Meludam, Betong.

"We advise the public to cease any open-burning activities as it can have an impact not just on the locals, who are exposed to smoke and other pollutants, but may also trigger the haze," he said.

He said close monitoring is being conducted statewide in high risk areas such as the peat land near Institut Latihan Perindustrian (ILP) in Miri.

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Malaysia: Bull elephant captured, waiting to be translocated to forest reserve

Kristy Inus New Straits Times 20 Jul 18;

BELURAN: A bull elephant was successfully captured at Kampung Ulu Muanad here by wildlife rangers yesterday after two weeks of tracking, and is now waiting to be translocated to a forest reserve.

There were still three other elephants remaining in the area which Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) hoped to capture and translocate as soon as possible to reduce human-elephant conflict there, said SWD officer and spokesperson Siti Nurain Ampuan Acheh.

The Sandakan Wildlife Department office at present has been working closely with the community there, as well as non-governmental organisation (NGO) the Forest Trust and IJM Plantation management since November 2015, when the human-elephant conflict become an issue.

In a statement here, Siti Nurain said the conflict had resulted in damage of about RM200,000 a year.

“The Forest Trust and IJM Plantation then formed a team of youths from Kg Ulu Muanad to assist the Wildlife Department to mitigate the conflict.

“Training and workshop were conducted to prepare the team to assist in mitigating the conflict.

“The full cooperation of the whole team has eased the situation of human-elephant conflict in Ulu Muanad, and Sabah Wildlife Department wishes to thank those involved in the process and hoped for their continuous support,” she added.

Bull from pygmy elephant herd first to be relocated
The Star 21 Jul 18;

KOTA KINABALU: A bull Borneo pygmy elephant which was part of a herd in conflict with villagers in east coast Beluran district for about three years has been captured with the help of wildlife rangers and local villagers.

After nearly two weeks of tracking the movements of the elephants at Kg Ulu Muanad, they managed to capture the bull on Thursday, said Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Augustine Tuuga.

It is now waiting to be translocated to an area far away from Ulu Maunad, Tuuga said without disclosing the location.

The department was still tracking three more remaining elephants to capture and translocate them as soon as possible and put an end to the prolonged conflict, he added.

The elephants have been blamed for losses of up to RM200,000 a year in crop damage among others.

To address the issue, the Sandakan Wildlife Office has been working closely with the local community, The Forest Trust and IJM Plantation in Ulu Muanad since the start of the conflict.

Wildlife conservationists here are concerned about the spike in death rates of elephants in the wild with some 16 found dead since April this year.

The cause of deaths have yet to be ascertained as post-mortems provided no conclusive evidence for wildlife rangers on the case.

Most recently, an elephant was killed by a hunter’s snare.

Elephant from herd in conflict with Sabah villagers for past three years captured
muguntan vanar The Star 20 Jul 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Wildlife officers have captured a bull Borneo pygmy elephant, part of a herd that has been in conflict with villagers in east coast Beluran district for about three years.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Augustine Tuuga said its officers and some villagers had been tracking the movements of the elephants at Kg Ulu Muanad for two weeks and finally managed to capture one on Thursday (July 19).

He said that they would be moving the animal far away from Ulu Maunad, but did not disclosed where.

Tuuga said that they were still tracking three more elephants, and hoped to capture and translocate them as soon as possible.

He said the Sandakan Wildlife Office worked closely with the Ulu Muanad community, NGO The Forest Trust as well as IJM plantation and formed a team of village youth to handle to situation.

Wildlife conservationists are growing concern over a sudden spike in deaths of elephants with some 16 found dead since April this year.

The cause of the animals' deaths have yet to be ascertained as post-mortem examinations on the carcasses provided no conclusive evidence for wildlife rangers investigating the cases.

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Indonesia: Ministry campaigns for reduction in plastic bag use

Desi Purnamawati Antara 20 Jul 18;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) is campaigning for a reduction in the use of plastic bags in traditional markets in Jakarta.

On Friday, the officials from KLHK began campaigning for reducing the use of plastic bags at Jambul, Santa, and Tebet traditional markets in the South Jakarta area.

Apart from campaigning for a reduction in the use of plastic bags, the officials also distributed some two thousand non-plastic shopping bags to buyers and sellers at the markets.

KLHK Director General for Pollution and Environmental Degradation Control Karliansyah remarked that the campaign was conducted to encourage the public to no longer use plastic bags for shopping.

In addition, the campaign was conducted as part of the commemoration of World Environment Day, themed "Control of Plastic Waste."

"Through this campaign, we hope the public would no longer use plastic bags while shopping in traditional markets," Karliansyah remarked.

As an alternative to plastic bags, people can opt for reusable shopping bags.

During this time, people prefer plastic bags, as they are cheaper and can be used for carrying several items and discarded after use.

However, in reality, plastic bags cause pollute the environment, including the seas.

Editor: Otniel Tamindael

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Indonesia, Timor leste work on sustainable management of marine resources

Antara 20 Jul 18;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia and Timor Leste have launched a new project aimed at ensuring the conservation and sustainable management of marine and fisheries resources in the Indonesian Sea Large Marine Ecosystem (ISLME).

The project, called "Enabling Transboundary Cooperation for Sustainable Management of the Indonesian Seas," was launched in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) during a three-day meeting between the two governments` representatives here, the UN organization said in a statement.

During the meeting, which ended on Thursday, Indonesia and Timor Leste agreed to ensure the productivity of the ecosystem, aimed at improving food security and livelihood opportunities for locals dependent on marine and fisheries resources in both countries.

The ISLME covers approximately 2.13 million sq.km, 98 percent of which is located within Indonesia`s territorial waters and approximately two percent within the territorial waters of Timor Leste.

Around 185 million people live in the ISLME region, with many highly dependent on coastal and marine industries including fisheries, aquaculture, oil and gas production, transportation, and tourism.

The FAO said Global Environment Facility (GEF) is contributing US$4 million to support the project for a four year period.

As the two leading ministries in the project, the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (KKP) and Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) have committed to ensuring that the undertaking addresses their priorities, such as combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The collaboration between the countries is aimed at ensuring that the globally-significant biodiversity in the ISLME remains sustainable now and for future generations.

(Tz. R013/B/NE)
Editor: Heru Purwanto

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