Cambodia bans sand exports

Cambodia has banned sand exports from a coastal region where it was mainly being shipped to Singapore, although activists say earlier bans on the destructive process have not been enforced.

Environmental NGOs accuse Phnom Penh of damaging and corrupt sand-dredging along its south-west coast and the Mekong River.

The sand is largely used in the Singaporean construction industry, despite the damage done to Cambodian communities and ecosystems.

A temporary ban was imposed last November, but campaigners allege dredging has continued. Singapore imported more than 72 million tonnes of sand from Cambodia since 2007, according to the United Nations.

But Phnom Penh claims the exports to Singapore were just 16 million tonnes in that period.

The new ban on all export of “construction sand and mud sand” from south-western Koh Kong province does not prohibit domestic sales.

The order was made in response to environmental concerns, said Meng Saktheara, a spokesman for the Cambodian mining and energy ministry.

“If we continue to allow large-scale sand dredging for exports, it would hugely affect the natural environment and local communities,” the spokesman said.

Singapore has expanded its landmass by more than 20 per cent since independence in 1965, and considers its reclamation work central to accommodating the city-state’s expanding population.

Sand is key to reclamation work but the Lion City has recently experimented with techniques that require less sand.

Singaporean reclamation projects are organised by private contractors, who must follow sand import rules, including environmental protection measures.

Activists questioned whether the move would block the trade. “There has been such a ban in recent years, but [exporters] still operated,” said Meng Heng from Mother Nature, adding that Koh Kong province is the main centre for sand extraction.

But there are also concerns about damage from dredging along the Mekong River.

“We want a ban of exports of sand from the whole country, including sand from the Mekong River,” the campaigner said.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, also of Mother Nature, added: “I think it will make a difference. It will not be easy for the sand mining companies to continue exporting.”

Media and activist scrutiny on the trade would hamper companies which tried to flout the rules, he added.

Malaysia imposed a block on sand exports in 1997, while Indonesia banned exports of land sand to Singapore in 2007.

Lonely Beach on Koh Kong Island. Picture credit: Flickr