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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sand dredging threatens Cambodia's coasts

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, May 12 (UPI) -- Sand dredging in Cambodia, fueled by Singapore's expansion and land reclamation projects, poses a huge risk to Cambodia's coastal environment, says a new report.

In its "Shifting Sands" report, environmental group Global Witness estimates that as much as 796,000 tons of sand is being removed from saltwater estuaries in Cambodia's Koh Kong province each month -- enough to cover all of Phnom Penh nearly a half-inch deep in just eight months.

Singapore, with a population of 4.9 million people, has increased its land surface by 22 percent since the 1960s, mostly through land reclamation projects using imported sand. This appetite for sand is fueling a "corrupt and environmentally disastrous" sand industry, the Global Witness report states.

The Cambodian government in May 2009 imposed a ban on sand exports. Yet two prominent Cambodian senators had been awarded sand extraction licenses, Global Witness said, and there is no trace of any revenues benefiting the state.

The London-based watchdog group estimates the annual value of the sand shipments is $28.7 million in Cambodia and $248 million once the sand reaches Singapore.

Cambodia's sand-dredging industry poses a "huge risk" to its coastal environment, threatening endangered species, fish stocks and local livelihoods, the report states.

Hundreds of fisherman from the Koh Kong and Kampot provinces have protested repeatedly against the sand dredging, The Phnom Penh Post reported, quoting a fisherman from Koh Kong as saying that fish catches had decreased about 40 percent since last year.

The process of sand dredging has also "wreaked havoc" on the region's coastlines, the Global Witness report said, noting that Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia each have banned dredging sand for export because of environmental concerns.

Emphasizing that Singapore prides itself as being a regional leader on environmental issues, "the country's failure to mitigate the social and ecological cost of sand dredging represents hypocrisy on a grand scale," George Boden, campaigner at Global Witness, said in a release.

"Cambodia's natural resource wealth should be lifting its population out of poverty," he said, noting that nearly 70 percent of the population subsists on less than $2 a day.

In a statement, Singapore's Ministry of National Development rejected the findings of the Global Witness report, saying "we do not condone the illegal export or smuggling of sand, or any extraction of sand that is in breach of the source countries' laws and rules on environmental protection."

"We have not received any official notice on the ban of sand exports from Cambodia," it added.

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