Vietnam is looking at ways to make artificial sand after experts warned it could run out of the naturally occurring material within five years.
Scientists from the Institute of Transport Science and Technology issued the warning during a meeting with the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Transport on Friday, 20 October. However, it added that artificial sand could be made for up to 15% more cheaply than mining the natural variety, and that it makes better quality concrete.
According to the institute, Vietnam needs about 100 million cubic metres of sand every year to keep pace with the country’s steady 6% annual GDP growth, which is leading to a continuous boom in construction spending.
The shortage has been partly created by a government crackdown on illegal sand-dredging. The effectiveness of this campaign led to a 200% rise in prices, and this in turn has put pressure on infrastructure projects with large concrete requirements.
Nguyen Thanh Nam, director of the Ha Noi Highway expansion in Ho Chi Minh City, said his project was under pressure owing to the price rise. "We are looking for more detailed information on industrial sand. If the sand meets the standard, we will use it to pave the sidewalks of the Ha Noi Highways," he said.
Sand along the country’s local rivers have long been exported, but this has been halted by the government.
Some sand dredging projects have been a cause of considerable strife. One dispute in March of this year over the dredging on the Cau River in Bac Ninh province, near Hanoi, led to threats of violence by "organised criminals" against local government chiefs.
Meanwhile, in Cambodia nearly 50 civil society organisations lobbied the government in October last year to ban or restrict exports of sand to Singapore after it UN data revealed that nearly $750m of the building material has been exported to the island state, compared with the $5m accounted for in public records.
The petition to Suy Sem, the minister of mines, read: "We note the decisions of the governments of Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia to ban or restrict sand exports to Singapore due to environmental concerns, and we urge your excellency to consider instituting a similar ban or restriction in Cambodia, in the interests of Cambodia’s long-term sustainable development."
Image: Dredging for sand in Vietnam (Cobra Cero)