Cambodia’s government has officially banned export of its sand, but in a new report Global Witness claim this is being openly flouted.

In Shifting Sand the group claim Singapore’s rapid expansion is driving an ‘ecologically and socially devastating’ sand-dredging industry in Cambodia.

It alleges Cambodian senators have awarded sand extraction licences ‘behind closed doors’, gaining control of an industry worth millions of dollars – but there is no evidence of any revenues reaching Cambodia’s state coffers.

The two senators named in the report are also implicated in what is calls ‘dubious land deals’ and ‘forced evictions’.

It goes on to say Cambodia’s sand-dredging industry poses a ‘huge risk’ to its coastal environment, ‘threatening endangered species, fish stocks and local livelihoods’.

While also claiming ‘there is no evidence’ that basic environmental safeguards have been applied, with boats reportedly turning up and dredging sand, often in protected areas, with no local consultation.

All this makes a mockery of the government’s supposed May 2009 ban on sand-dredging.

This trade is driven by Singapore. The city state was the world’s largest importer of sand in 2008.

“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.

“Instead, international aid has propped up basic services in Cambodia for over 15 years, providing the equivalent of 50% of the government budget.

“Meanwhile, money from natural resources disappears into private bank accounts, and nearly 70% of the population subsists on less than $2 a day.”

Luke Walsh

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