Cambodia permanently bans sand exports

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New order casts pall over Singapore land reclamation

Tradition of carrying sand into the temple or monastery in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Vassamon Anansukkasem/Shutterstock

Cambodia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy indefinitely banned all sand exports Monday in a stunning setback for the kingdom’s land-reclaiming neighbours.

Wanton dredging of sand along the Cambodia’s coast has wiped away beaches, harmed mangrove forests, and destroyed riverside homes, environmental groups allege. Oil leakage from sand barges and dredging machines have also annihilated vast populations of local catch.

“Their worries are right that the risks are massive so the ministry decided to ban sand exports and large-scale sand dredging,” ministry spokesperson Meng Saktheara told Reuters.

The announcement could come at a cost to Singapore, which has imported over 72 million tonnes of sand, valued at USD740 million, from Cambodia over the past 10 years, UN trade data show. The Cambodian government, however, reports that Singapore imported only 16 million tonnes over the same period.

Singapore owes more than 20 percent of its landmass to reclamation.

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Cambodia temporarily issued a ban on sand exports in November. Singapore halted all sand imports from the kingdom following the ban, the city-state’s Ministry of National Development reported in January.

Yet environmentalists charge that contractors were able to ignore that ban and are doubtful the second one would be met with widespread compliance.

“Sand is being dredged … are we sure that sand is not being exported?” said Lim Kimsor, member of the eco-activist nonprofit Mother Nature Cambodia.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, director of the group, thinks the ban will “make a difference” and dissuade sand mining companies from continuing their exports. The ban, however, excludes the export of silica, a type of sand used in making glass, he reported.

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