“Of Sand, Security and Cold Hard Cash” by Serina Rahman

2017/51, 24 August 2017 

In varying but little noticed reports a week ago, it was announced that Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states in India will soon begin importing sand from Malaysia and Cambodia. The reports cited the difficulty that these states have in ensuring enough sand for local construction and development projects. With limits on local mining permits and conservation policies being enforced to protect Indian water catchment areas, the price of local sand has soared to SGD$5.30 per 50kg bag. A global tender for sand resulted in Malaysian and Cambodian companies offering sand at SGD$3.17 per 50kg bag. This announcement is a curious one as Malaysia has had an export ban on sand for more than 10 years and Cambodia, as have several other Southeast Asian countries, has been embroiled in numerous sand smuggling allegations and denials. That the articles can celebrate the protection of Indian river ecosystems is ironic given the potential damage that will result in the source countries.


Source: Serina Rahman, Visiting Fellow, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute


Off Pulau Carey, on the west coast of Malaysia, illegal sand dredging by Chinese ships have led to sudden gaping holes in the intertidal mud flats and sizeable losses to local incomes dependent on the sale of snails and bivalves from these areas. In the Johor River, sand-mining has damaged inshore fishing grounds. Local fishermen complain that the once thriving river shrimp harvests no longer exist. The trade of sand, whether legal or illegal, has become a new frontier in national security issues. The huge global demand for sand for construction and reclamation and its economic and environmental repercussions pitch the potential cash earnings of those in the business against the everyday survival of those who depend on the natural habitats that are mined or dredged. It seems that the economic benefits from the trade will far outweigh its community and ecological impacts. 


Dr Serina Rahman is Visiting Fellow under the Malaysia Program at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. 


The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.