Vietnam faces shortage of construction sand after years of over-exploitation

By Ngan Anh   October 29, 2017 | 05:42 pm PT
Vietnam faces shortage of construction sand after years of over-exploitation
The domestic supply of sand could be depleted by 2020. Photo by VnExpress
Infrastructure could grind to a halt if new alternatives aren't found.

Vietnam is in danger of running out of construction sand due to over-exploitation and rapid development, according to the Ministry of Construction.

The country will need 2.1-2.3 billion cubic meters of natural sand between 2016 and 2020, but the country’s remaining sand reserves are estimated at around 2 billion cubic meters.

“At the current rate of natural sand exploitation, domestic supplies could be depleted by 2020,” said head of the Department of Construction Materials Pham Van Bac.

To deal with the situation, Vietnam is looking at producing artificial sand from sedimentary rock, which is abundant in the south of the country.

Artificial sand has been used to make asphalt and concrete roads and construction concrete in many parts of the world, including Canada, the U.S., Germany, Australia, China and Japan, according to Vietnam’s Institute of Transport Science and Technology.

The cost of industrially produced sand can be 10-15 percent lower than exploiting natural sand, said the institute.

It takes centuries for natural sand to be washed down from upstream rivers to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, said Duong Van Ni, an expert from Can Tho University. “The construction sector should limit the use of sand and look for alternative materials for certain projects.”

The government has asked local authorities to halt sand exports, but some dredging firms are still allowed to ship sand overseas to recoup their investments.

Sand exploitation volume licensed by local authorities could meet only 45 percent of domestic demand for the natural product. Photo by VnExpress

Legal sand exploitation can meet only 45 percent of domestic demand. Photo by VnExpress

Rocketing prices in domestic market

Authorities have launched a massive crackdown on the illegal sand dredging industry, resulting in dimished supply and higher prices.

According to the Ministry of Construction, authorized sand exploitation only meets 45 percent of domestic demand.

Prices of construction sand have rocketed by 200-300 percent since early this year, and show no signs of easing.

The price of construction sand now stands at over VND600,000 ($26.1) per cubic meter.

Nguyen Van Tuan, vice chairman of Hau Giang's provincial People’s Committee, said many developers have called a halt to construction due to the price hike.

Phan Anh Dung, director of the Trung Luong-My Thuan Expressway project in Tien Giang Province, said: “We need more than 6 million cubic meters of sand. The price hike has raised the cost by more than VND600 billion ($26.1 million).”

The only way the project will be completed on time in 2020 is if prices come down, he said.

“The transport infrastructure projects in the southwest will be delayed for many years unless the government takes measures to ensure enough sand,” said a representative from Soc Trang Province.

In response, some construction enterprises have started studying the use of alternative products.

Nguyen Thanh Nam, head of the Ho Chi Minh City-based Hanoi Highway project, said the price surge has put the highway's expansion in trouble.

“We are looking at artificial sand. If the product is up to standard, we will use it to pave the sidewalks along the highway,” Nam said.

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