14 May 2009

Cambodia bans sand exports due to environmental impact of dredging

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a ban sand exports citing the environmental effects of sand dredging on rivers, estuaries and marine areas.
Reclamation at Pasir Panjang Container Port
Reclamation at Pasir Panjang Port, opposite Cyrene Reefs.

River and marine sand dredging, much of it for export to Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, has increased significantly in Cambodia in the past year.

Sand dredging frequently caused riverbanks and houses to collapse along the Mekong River and the Tonle Bassac River.

The Prime Minister also announced a blanket ban on marine dredging, citing its negative environmental effects, but said an exception would be made where sand gathered and replenished itself naturally.

124 dredging companies were operating in Cambodia, and some had received licences to export sand. None of the companies would stop dredging sand altogether. "Those companies still continue dredging sand to supply local demand," said a Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology official. "We have just banned them from exporting sand outside the country."

Cambodia used to export 40,000 to 50,000 tons of sand per month from its coastal province of Koh Kong, and the annual value of this business stood at 35 million U.S. dollars. Vietnam and Singapore were the major destination countries.

Meanwhile, in April the Indonesia’s Trade Ministry began consultations with other Indonesian agencies on whether to lift the 2007 ban on the export of sea sand to Singapore.

The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries strongly disagreed with lifting of ban on sea sand exports to Singapore, as "sand mining had negative effects on Indonesia".

In 2002, the Ministry of Trade allowed sand exports, with stringent conditions defining limits sets on exploitation areas. Aji supervised a team investigating sea sand mining control and supervision in 2002, which resulted in the ministry allowing partial sand quarrying at the time.

“However, the damage was greater than the benefits,” said a Ministry official, adding that although selling sand could boost exports, it could also lead to an environmental disaster.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry has expressed its objection, citing sovereignty reasons, while the Directorate General of Custom and Exercise also objected.

Although sand exports are said to have fallen dramatically, environmentalists say illegal dredging has hardly abated. They say that the entire Nipah and Sebaik islands have almost disappeared in the Riau region. Before the ban, Tulang in the Karimun Island chain, has lost 32 meters of beach to sand thieves.

Illegal activity in North Sumatra — particularly on the Cermin and Labu beaches — has continued despite the ban, with dredgers sucking up as much as 7,000 cubic meters of sand per hour. Dredging has also gone on unabated in Benkulu, Bangka Belitung, Lampung and West Sumatra, according to Walhi.

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