Cambodia bans sand exports to Singapore after pressure from environmental groups

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

The Ministry of Mines and Energy said yesterday that most of Cambodia'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 of sand have had a serious impact on coastal ecosystems and surrounding land.

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 This superseded a May 2009 partial ban on certain types of sand.

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A ministry spokesman, Mr 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.

"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 went into force, and it had imported some 16 million tonnes of sand since 2007.

SCEPTICAL ABOUT ENFORCEMENT

Sand is being dredged... are we sure that sand is not being exported?

MS LIM KIMSOR, an activist with the group Mother Nature, on whether the sand export ban is being properly enforced.

MULTIPLE SOURCES

We spread our risk by having near and distant sources.

SINGAPORE CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT KENNETH LOO, on Singapore's builders diversifying their sand sources, ranging from Vietnam to Myanmar to China.

United Nations trade data released last year showed that 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 res- pond to Reuters for a 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 Cambodia 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 sourced sand legally, in line with local environmental rules.

The MND said then that the Government did 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. After 2007, Singapore's builders diversified their sand sources, ranging from Vietnam to Myanmar to China.

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

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

He 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

• Additional reporting by Toh Wen Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'Cambodia bans sand exports to Singapore after pressure from environmental groups'. Print Edition | Subscribe