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Experts at the Kenya-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has raised an alarm marking the worrisome rate at which sand is getting depleted from the face of Earth. 

Sand is deemed the most-extracted solid material in the world, and the second-most used global resource behind water. However, sand's use is largely ungoverned.

Unregulated extraction of sand has created  a huge gap in the utilisation and generation process. Sand takes thousands of years of geological processes to form and its consumption has been faster than that. 

"We now find ourselves in the position where the needs and expectations of our societies cannot be met without improved governance of sand resources," Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, director of the Economy Division at UNEP said in the report's foreword. "If we act now, it is still possible to avoid a sand crisis."

Sand is globally used in glass, concrete and construction materials. Reports suggest the consumption has almost tripled in the past two decades. It has reached 50 billion tonnes a year, or about 17 kilogrammes per person each day, confirmed the reports. 

This over consumption has resulted in harming rivers and coastlines and even wiping out small islands.

Formation of Sand

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US Department of Commerce, sand forms when rocks break down from weathering and eroding over thousands, and even millions of years. Rocks take time to decompose, especially quartz (silica) and feldspar.

Often starting thousands of miles from the ocean, rocks slowly travel down rivers and streams, constantly breaking down along the way, the NOAA said.

The tan colour of most sand beaches is the result of iron oxide, the agency added.

Importance of Sand

Sand is the most used material in the world. Whether it's about building concrete structures, walls of even glass, sand is used everywhere. Due to increased consumption, riverbeds and beaches are being stripped of sand, resulting in an environmental crisis.

Sand performs key role in regulating the environment - by protecting from storm surges, acting as a habitat for a number of species and even protecting against erosion.

Unregulated use of sand will disturb ecologically sensitive areas and put stress on biodiversity.

UNEP report on Sand shortage

The report, released last week, called for urgent action to avert a "sand crisis," including a ban on beach extraction.

UNEP's Pascal Peduzzi who coordinated the report written by 22 authors said that some of the impacts of over-exploitation were already being felt. In the Mekong River - the longest in Southeast Asia - sand extraction was causing the delta to sink, leading to salinisation of previously fertile lands.

In a Sri Lankan river, sand removal had reversed the water flow, meaning that ocean water was heading inland and bringing salt-water crocodiles with it, he told journalists.

Finally, removing sand from coastal areas can make coastlines more vulnerable to the impact of climate change, such as more powerful storms, according to the report.

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