In depth

About the sand market

Despite its importance worldwide, sand is to this date, one of the least regulated resources.

Most major rivers across the world have already lost between 50 and 95 percent of their natural sand and gravel.

Singapore is the world’s largest sand importer, and has imported an estimated 517 million tons of sand over the last 20 years.

Sand is a critical component in many of the products we depend on every day: glass, concrete, asphalt, computer chips, and more.

We use up to 50 billion tons of it every year, making it the second-largest resource extracted and traded by volume each year, behind water.

Despite our necessity for sand, there are no international conventions that specifically regulate the extraction, use and trade of land-based sand.

Sand is made of rocks that have eroded over thousands of years. There are many different types of sand and each has its own purpose. Sand from riverbeds is the most desired for use in construction materials such as concrete and asphalt.

Demand for sand is expected to increase in the coming years, especially in developing countries faced with increasing populations, urbanization and economic growth.

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the international trade in sand is forecasted to grow at a 5.5 percent rate each year, in the upcoming years, as demand outpaces supply.

Resource-constrained countries will be particularly dependent on sand imports to meet the needs of their rapidly growing urban areas.

Desert sand, however, is not usable for construction purposes since desert winds make it too fine and smooth.

The UAE is thus dependent on sand imports to continue making roads, buildings and other infrastructure in Dubai.