This Country Is Buying Sand to Literally Make Itself Bigger

Douglas A. McIntyre

Countries import oil, metals and agricultural products to provide energy and food for their people. Sand is not generally on the list of a country’s most essential imports. However, one nation has become the world’s largest sand importer by far. Singapore has run out of room for housing, factories and office buildings, so it needs the sand to expand its geographic footprint.

The island city-state south of Malaysia is built on 247 square miles of land, which makes it slightly smaller than New York City. Singapore is the third most densely populated nation in the world, after Macau and Monaco. It is often listed as among the most crowded cities in the world. And it is one of the countries where people live the longest.

It began to reclaim land in 1822 in an attempt to increase its geographic size. Since becoming a sovereign nation in 1965, Singapore has grown its land mass by 24%. Without sand imports, the process would have been impossible.

The United Nations keeps data on sand imports and exports. Based on the UN’s latest statistics, Singapore imported $823 million worth of sand in a year.

It is getting harder for Singapore to find sand to import. According to the Business Times, “Singapore’s biggest suppliers in the past, including Indonesia and Vietnam, have halted some sand exports amid environmental concerns and political considerations about shipping lanes and territorial boundaries.” Cambodia also has banned the export of sand to Singapore.

Singapore’s GDP growth rate is faster than in most countries. It is one of the world’s largest financial centers. The nation is also a producer of telecom, electronics and biomedical products. As its gross domestic product has grown, so has the population. In 2018, it rose by almost 2%, according to the CIA World Factbook. Singapore’s size will need to expand more to support increases in its economy and population.

Based on the pace of sand imports over the past several years, Singapore’s effort to increase its square mileage has accelerated. However, because of the position many of its sand trade partners have taken recently, the process has become much harder.