With authorities tightening management over sand exploitation in rivers in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, the price of the substance has skyrocketed, creating a lucrative market for excessive mining.
Surveys taken at major distributors of building materials in the delta showed that sand prices have spiked by VND30,000 (US$1.32) to VND80,000 ($3.52) per cubic meter compared to the past two months.
The surge was brought about by a limited supply of sand, an owner of such a facility in Vinh Long Province said, adding that all kinds of sand have been sold out.
Another seller in Vinh Long stated that even low-quality sand, which contains a lot of impurities, has also been in high demand.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the substance was selling at VND600,000 ($26.3) per cubic meter, as recorded on Wednesday, while sand containing impurities was offered at about VND530,000 ($23.3) per cubic meter.
According to a local businessman, the price has been inflated by three to four times by several intermediaries.
The price hike has been a motivation for sand exploiters to boost their operations despite the tightened control of competent agencies.
According to the observation of Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters, a section of the Tien (Front) River in Hong Ngu District, Dong Thap Province, became a bustling sand market with ships from other provinces arriving every day to transport the sand.
In a waterway only a few kilometers long, the journalists could spot up to 50 large barges, used for transporting sand, and some 20 boats, which were used to dredge the substance from the river, working to their full capacity.
Alongside the hectic activities, several speedboats supposedly belonging to local authorities were also seen scouting around the area.
Under the cover of sand distributors, the correspondents met a man named D., one of the notorious individuals in the local sand market.
After discussing the price, the reporters stated they had brought two barges, each with a capacity of 500 cubic meters, to carry the material.
“For each 500-cubic meter barge, we can only issue the receipt for the sale of 150 cubic meters of sand,” D. said.
This means 70 percent of the purchased sand would not be declared in the receipt.
A probe later showed that D. was just a subordinate, whose superior was Y., a man who had a close relationship with a corrupted ex-official of the locality.
According to an expert on sand usage in the Mekong Delta, as many infrastructure projects are being carried out in the region, the demand for sand has been higher than ever, creating a market for illegally exploited sand.
A sand mine with a legitimate license previously provided the substance for about two or three barges a day, the specialist continued.
Following officials’ order to improve the management of sand mining, about 40 to 50 ships can be spotted operating at such a mine on a daily basis, he added.
Vo Tan Dung, an official from the Ministry of Construction, assessed that sand is necessary for the execution of all projects, even a small-scale one.
“The best solution is to substitute sand dredged from rivers with saline soil and sand,” Dung suggested.
It took some hundreds of years for sand to be washed down from upstream rivers and formed in the Mekong Delta, Dr. Duong Van Ni, a lecturer from Can Tho University, said.
The natural resource was often refilled once it got exploited in an area, Dr. Ni continued.
However, in the past seven to eight years, excessive exploitation did not give enough time for the sand to be replenished, resulting in local rivers becoming deeper compared to the past.
Dredging activity in a river section does not necessarily impact the nearby environment, the expert said, adding that it could affect an area five or 10 kilometers away due to water currents.
The exploitation of sand in Mekong Delta rivers should be limited as it has been causing subsidence along the banks.
“Authorities in the construction sector need to limit the use of sand to certain projects, while others will have to utilize alternative material,” Dr. Ni asserted.