Whilst creating jobs and acceleration of economic recovery is the main trigger, many people - including myself - see a huge and potential game changing opportunity for pushing Climate Action, Enhancing Resilience and Rebuilding Better in our response to the current crisis. World Bank for example is frontloading their investment plan focusing on Relief, Restructuring and Resilient Recovery.

But while economic recovery and enhancing resilience are goals to be ambitious of, we shouldn’t lose sight of challenges, hurdles ánd opportunities on the way there. One of those: sand.
During my panel contribution in the most recent Rebuilding Better webinar of the Green Growth Knowledge Network and UNEP I discussed the opportunities sand and alternatives to sand bring when it comes to enhancing resilience and sustainable infrastructure development.

If you missed the webinar you can find the recording via the link below:

GGKP Webinar

Sand: the challenge

Many governments invest in large infrastructure developments. Although economically beneficial, this impulse will even further increase growing sand demand. In South East Asia sand shortage is already becoming a real issue. Due to urbanization, reservoirs close to urban and industrial centers are less available resulting in a shift to extraction from river and marine environment causing environmental and social sustainability problems. Sand resource governance is a major sustainability challenge and requires careful consideration in light of Rebuilding Better ambitions.

So how best to combine the push for accelerated infrastructure development resulting in increased sand demands with the opportunity to push for sustainable and resilient cities and communities in a way that serve both public and private sector?


But how?

Rebuilding Better and Enhancing Resilience in my view need to include the following four principles:

  1. An integrated system approach fitting local context and, by doing it right, making global impact.
  2. Social inclusiveness and empowering people by local engagement and community involvement.
  3. Transparent governance with strong policies, regulations and governmental institutions.
  4. Public-Private partnerships: rebuilding better and enhancing resilience should be a combined effort of business and government and be beneficial for both. Everyone has a role to play.

Regarding sand demand and sand use I see opportunities at four levels considering Rebuilding Better and Enhancing Resilience:

  1. Circular economy approach – recycling, recovery and reuse of sand.
  2. Use alternative building materials instead of sand, like mud or upgraded sand of lower quality where possible.
  3. Reduce the need for sand for grey infrastructure by applying alternative measures such as operational measures, strategies & policies, spatial solutions e.g. master planning and zoning, adaptive building or disaster management based on speedy digital information and communication using risk & impact mapping and monitoring, forecasting & warning systems.
  4. Use Nature Based solutions like sand scaping combined with or instead of grey infrastructure.

Sand: opportunities and alternatives

In case of an upcoming disaster automated alerting and warning messages using smart phones are very effective in reaching people on the streets. Organisational and planning measures are often less costly and less vulnerable than hard infrastructural protection. The effect and lifespan of structural measures shortens over time due to exponential climate change.

Another alternative to sand intense grey infrastructure are nature based solutions such as sand scaping for enhancing flood and coastal erosion resilience. Sand scaping involves nourishing the shore with a large quantity of sand, which is then spread around by natural processes to protect the coast from erosion and flooding in the event of major storm surges. The advantage is the sand remains part of the natural system, secondly sand scaping involves only one larger intervention impacting the natural system in about 20 years instead of annually smaller beach nourishment. This is done in the Netherlands and in Bacton (UK).
In my view these are ways to combine the push for accelerated infrastructure development with the opportunity to push for sustainable and resilient cities, infrastructure and communities in such a way that it serves both public and private sector and prevents increase of sand demand and negative side effects of sand extraction.

Rebuilding better together

Regarding our starting question Rebuilding Better: what’s sand got to do with it? I would like to emphasize:
  1. Dealing with sand and aggregate challenges is inevitable when discussing Rebuilding Better.
  2. An integrated system approach, social inclusiveness, transparent governance and public-private partnerships have a key role to play in achieving more sustainable and resilient solutions.
  3. Rebuilding Better and Enhancing Resilience can be done in many ways, other than grey infrastructure only. Prevent increase of sand demand by applying alternative measures such as Sand Scaping using sand as building material in its natural environment but also use of technologies & digital solutions.
But above all my key message is that we need to grasp the opportunity of the current investments in response to the COVID-19 crisis as accelerator for Climate Action, Enhancing Resilience and Rebuilding Better. We need to do it NOW and we need to do it TOGETHER. Everyone has a role to play.