SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore’s thirst for sand to increase land reclamation and construction is driving an ecologically damaging sand-dredging industry in Cambodia, according to a report by a non-governmental organization. London-based Global Witness said on Tuesday that Cambodia’s sand-dredging industry threatened endangered species, fish stocks and local livelihoods, despite the government’s May 2009 ban on sand-dredging.
“This situation highlights the continued failure of Cambodia’s international donors to use their leverage to hold the small elite surrounding the Prime Minister to account,” said George Boden, campaigner at Global Witness.
“Cambodia’s natural resource wealth should be lifting its population out of poverty.”
Koy Koung, the spokesman and undersecretary of state at Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, said he was unable to comment as the government had not seen the Global Witness report.
The report said Singapore was the world’s largest importer of sand in 2008 and has used sand imports to increase its landmass by 22 percent since the 1960s.
It said this development has wreaked havoc on the region’s coastlines, with Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia having all announced bans on sand dredging for export due to environmental concerns.
Global Witness said it had tracked boats being loaded with sand in Cambodia to their destinations in Singapore, a regional base for manufacturers and banks that is expanding its financial center and leisure attractions onto reclaimed land.
The Singapore government said sand imports for reclamation were done on a commercial basis by a government entity, with sand concession holders determining the source locations.
“We are committed to the protection of the global environment, and we do not condone the illegal export or smuggling of sand, or any extraction of sand that is in breach of the source countries’ laws and rules on environmental protection,” Singapore’s Ministry of national Development said.
“The policing and enforcement of sand extraction licenses is ultimately the responsibility of the source country,” it added.
In June this year, Singapore will host the World Cities Summit, which promotes ‘sustainable and livable cities’. Singapore, which calls itself the “Garden City,” attracts expatriates for its clean environment.
“Singapore says that the import of sand is a purely commercial activity but it also presents itself as a regional leader on environmental issues,” said Global Witness’ Boden.
“If Singapore wants its environmental stance to be taken seriously, monitoring where the sand is sourced and what is being done to obtain it would be an obvious place to start.”
Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; Editing by Jerry Norton