Environment Panel



Tracking an Emerging 'Crisis': Sand and Sand Extraction in Southeast Asia

Suivi d’une « crise » émergente: Le sable et son exploitation en Asie du Sud-Est


Saturday, October 23, 2021


14:15 – 16:00

VenueVenue 2Venue 2


Sand—a granular material that is ubiquitous and undervalued as a commodity—brings this panel together. It focuses on sand through exploring how sand extraction, trade, and transformation (re)shapes and changes places, ecosystems, and livelihoods in multiple sites and forms but also beyond state territorial borders. Case material from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia are woven into the panel’s analysis of sand processes and experiences in Southeast Asia.

Convenor/Animateur: Wendy Medina de Loera, York University

Chair/Président: Melissa Marschke, University of Ottawa

Discussant/Intervenant: Melissa Marschke, University of Ottawa

Event poster


Towards a Mobile Political Ecology of Sand and Shifting Resource-based Livelihoods in Southeast Asia

Vanessa Lamb, School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Melbourne; Zali Fung, School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Melbourne

Southeast Asia is experiencing an unprecedented rise in sand extraction, with sand mined from rivers and coasts, and this is impacting resource-based livelihoods. Sand flows move beyond state territorial borders, suggesting the need to analyze how these flows move across political boundaries and (re)shape place. We adopt a mobile political ecology approach (Elmhirst et al. 2018) to understand the links between resource-dependent livelihoods and migration in the Myanmar (Burma)-Thai borderlands in the Salween River Basin. We bring van Schendel’s (2002) conceptualization of “flows” in borderlands to this work to understand the complex links between shifting livelihoods, migration flows, and sand extraction. In doing so, we make two key contributions. First, we rethink the fixity of people and resources in monsoonal Southeast Asia. Our research shows that existing migration patterns—which are complex and intergenerational—are being exacerbated by sand mining for export and environmental change, and interact with histories of conflict. Second, our work reveals not only how flows reshape place, but how place and practice reconfigure and reroute flows as they move through localities and interact with various actors. In highlighting these interlinkages, we provide new insights into often overlooked mobile resources and migration flows in the region, and their mutual constitution. By foregrounding transboundary flows in our analysis, we build on work that seeks to conceptualize place and scale in novel ways, thereby moving beyond state-centric analyses of transboundary resources.

Livelihoods Built on Sand: Exposing the Precarity of Labour in Cambodia’s Sand Extraction Industry

Lukas Van Arragon, School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa

Although Cambodia banned sand exports in 2017, under-regulated sand extraction in rivers across the country continues, driven by demand from rapid urbanization and land reclamation around Phnom Penh. In the last decade, the industry has come under intense scrutiny for its role in riverbank erosion and degradation of aquatic ecosystems, with some activists and scholars highlighting how this damages livelihoods and displaces rural Cambodians. At the same time, the sand boom in Cambodia has created a demand for labour, offering opportunities to rural Cambodians who have few other livelihood options in their home provinces. However, the vast majority of wealth from sand extraction does not accrue to sand labourers. Using qualitative data gathered from various sand extraction and transportation sites along the Mekong in and around Phnom Penh, this paper reveals new insights into the sand industry, showing that sand labour in Cambodia is characterized by precarious employment conditions, including work in remote and isolated locations, separation of families when men leave for sand-related labour, a lack of formal work contracts or rights, an inability to diversify income sources, and unpredictable cycles of intermittent work. This paper aims to explain how the drive to extract sand from the Mekong River in Cambodia elucidates the interplay between precarious labour, resource extraction, and livelihoods. In doing so, this paper helps to broaden our understanding of the implications of a little understood yet hugely important resource extraction industry.

Vibrant Coasts: The Role of Sand in Building and Protecting Coastal Cities

Lukas Ley, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Germany

Urbanization and global population growth are fuelling a surge in demand for sand, especially in Asia and Africa (Bendixen 2019). The average use of sand per person per day has reached 18 kilograms (UNEP 2019), making sand the second most used raw material after water. Large-scale coastal infrastructure projects in Asian countries that use sand in reclamation and construction have come under critique. Singapore is most infamously known for (illegally) importing sand from Southeast Asian countries to protect national assets and enlarge its territory (Whitington 2016). But not only states and investors need sand to protect shores and fortify land against rising seas. This paper considers the appropriation of sand in the context of everyday infrastructural projects aimed at protecting coastal settlements. Following Bennet (2011), it considers sand not as an inert material, but as an active ingredient of coastal life-worlds that inflects social relations and choice, both individual and collective. A focus on sand, it argues, opens up creative possibilities to study the urban environment beyond a limited focus on capital flows and governance. It reveals unseen inhabitations, techniques, and types of coastal infrastructures grounded in historically specific sociocultural formations around increasingly volatile coastal landscapes. A political ecological approach captures how residents recast the coast as a lifeworld according to patterns of seasonal variation and climate change but also global economic shifts and material affordances.

The shaping of an extractive sector in South Sulawesi, Indonesia: sand and stone extraction from the Jeneberang river

Wendy Alejandra Medina de Loera, Geography Department, York University

This paper attempts to emphasize the potential paying attention to materiality has for making our studies of the configuration and dynamics of mining and quarrying sectors even more complex. It explores how both the particularities of river sand and stones and the specificities of the geographical space where they are extracted from shape the sector that extracts them in terms of the actors who participate and the relationships these actors have with each other. The analysis in this paper is based on the case study of sand and stones extraction from the Jeneberang river in Gowa regency, South Sulawesi Province, Indonesia. The rapid urbanization of Makassar -capital city of the province and the main urban hub in Eastern Indonesia- and its increasing demand for construction aggregates are the main drivers for the development and dynamism of a thriving extractive sector in Gowa whose proximity to Makassar makes it an ideal supplier of river sand and stone materials.

CCSEAS Conference 2021 | ccseas@yorku.ca