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Cambodia bans sand exports after environmental group pressure

PHNOM PENH — Cambodia has banned all sand exports on environmental grounds, the Ministry of Mines and Energy said on Wednesday (July 12), officially ending the sale of sand to Singapore which has for years used it to reclaim land along its coasts.

Cambodia bans sand exports after environmental group pressure

A dredger vessel spewing sands to fill the seabed for reclamation off western Singapore. Photo: AFP

PHNOM PENH — Cambodia has banned all sand exports on environmental grounds, the Ministry of Mines and Energy said on Wednesday (July 12), officially ending the sale of sand to Singapore which has for years used it to reclaim land along its coasts.

The ministry said most of Cambodia’s sand had gone towards the expansion of the island city-state of Singapore, and it would now have to look for other sources.

A ministry spokesman, Meng Saktheara, said the government was responding to the concerns of the campaigners and it also agreed that large-scale sand mining was indeed damaging.

Environmental groups have been pressing the government to stop the trade, saying the digging and dredging of sand has had a serious impact on coastal ecosystems and surrounding land.

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

He said Singapore was Cambodia’s top market for sand until last year when the temporary ban came into force.

Singapore’s Ministry of National Development (MND) said in January the Republic stopped importing sand from Cambodia after the ban took effect in November last year.

The MND had stressed that Singapore sets strict criteria for imports of sand, including on environmental protection, but reiterated that sand is imported on a commercial basis and it is the contractors who must meet the criteria. It also said that Singapore has not come across any illegal shipments of sand into the country.

In November, Cambodian authorities temporarily halted sand exports by companies that hold valid permits after local activists found discrepancies in the export and import trade data from the United Nations.

The data showed that Singapore reported 73.6 million tonnes in sand imports from Cambodia since 2007. Yet Mr Meng Saktheara said some 16 million tonnes left for Singapore during the same period.

It was not clear why there was such a big difference between the official government figure for exports to Singapore since 2007 and the UN figure.

The extraction and export of Cambodian sand has been controversial, as firms allegedly extract sand in defiance of quotas, destroying coastal mangrove systems in the process and affecting the livelihoods of local fishing communities.

Aside from Cambodia, Singapore also imports sand from the Philippines and Myanmar, according to media reports.

Some environmental groups remained sceptical about the ban being properly enforced.

“Sand is being dredged ... are we sure that sand is not being exported?” asked Mr Lim Kimsor, an activist with the group Mother Nature. AGENCIES

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