Singapore

Cambodia bans sale of sand to Singapore

Impact likely to be less severe than 2007 'sand crisis' caused by Indonesian export ban

Cambodia has banned all sand exports on environmental grounds, officially ending the sale of sand to Singapore after a temporary halt.

Cambodia's Ministry of Mines and Energy said yesterday that most of the country's sand had been exported to the island city-state.

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

Groups had complained that sand in recent months had been exported illegally following a temporary ban last November. This superseded a May 2009 partial ban on certain types of sand.

Ministry spokesman Meng Saktheara said the government was responding to the concerns of the campaigners, while agreeing that large-scale sand mining was damaging.

"Their worries are right that the risks are massive so the ministry decided to ban sand exports and large-scale sand dredging," he told Reuters.

He said Singapore was Cambodia's top market for sand until last year when the temporary ban came into force. It had imported some 16 million tonnes of sand since 2007.

UN trade data last year showed Singapore had imported more than 72 million tonnes of sand from Cambodia since 2007. It was not clear why there was such a big difference between the two sets of figures.

But the discrepancy over how much sand Singapore has imported has led to charges that the trade enriched politicians in Cambodia.

Singapore's embassy in Phnom Penh did not immediately respond to Reuters' request for comment.

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 Ms Lim Kimsor, an activist with the group Mother Nature.

Singapore's Ministry of National Development (MND) did not respond to queries from The Straits Times by press time last night. But in January, it said Singapore had ceased importing sand from its neighbour since last November in compliance with the ban then.

It denied accusations that it illegally imported sand from Cambodia, saying "strict controls" were in place to ensure contractors source sand legally, in line with local environmental rules.

The MND said then that the Government does not condone the smuggling of sand or the use of forged export permits - accusations levelled at it by Cambodian environmentalists.

Singapore used to source the bulk of its sand from Indonesia before the latter abruptly banned all sand exports to Singapore in early 2007, citing environmental reasons.

This led to a "sand crisis" where building activity almost ground to a halt and sand prices trebled at one point.

Sand is used along with granite to make concrete, which is used extensively in local construction.

After 2007, Singapore's builders diversified their sand sources, ranging from Vietnam to Myanmar and China.

Singapore Contractors Association president Kenneth Loo told The Straits Times that this might cushion the blow of Cambodia's sand export ban.

"We spread our risk by having near and distant sources," he said.

Mr Loo added that the impact of the ban would depend on how big the percentage of supply of total market demand (for sand) comes from Cambodia - statistics that were not immediately available. 
- REUTERS & THE STRAITS TIMES

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