Saudi Arabia Runs out of Sand!

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Commodities, Supply & Demand

The Middle East construction industry is further delayed by a shortage of sand, yes you read that correctly, this is not an April Fool’s joke. Saudi Arabia has banned the export of sand and gravel because it hasn’t got enough in locations convenient for export according to local press reports! Now when I think of Saudi Arabia, and I have been there several times before you write in, I think of sand, vast deserts of the stuff stretching into the distance. I’ll grant you much of the eastern seaboard around Khobar is more barren scrub-land than classic dunes but anyone that has flown over that vast country will recall an endless vista of sand especially in the Ar Rub’ al Khali or Empty Quarter. And there in lies the problem, Saudi Arabia has more sand than oil but unlike it’s oil, the sand and gravel are predominantly in rather inaccessible areas and the cost of transport for such a comparatively low value product is uneconomically high.

The material shortages have become so bad in the gulf region around Bahrain, that building work has had to slow for lack of material. Apparently steel and aluminum producers are reporting a drop in sales as projects are slowed and developers seek alternative supplies. Metal Bulletin has reported in a recent weekly news report that the lack of sand and gravel, coming on top of a recent ban on export of Saudi cement across the causeway to Bahrain, is adding to the woes of an already depressed gulf construction industry that the travails of Dubai will do nothing to improve.

Not exactly a metals story we realize, but Saudi Arabia running out of sand, that one we had to share with you.

–Stuart Burns

Comments (6)

  1. John says:

    One of the major problems with sand and gravel is that it needs to be sieved and washed.

    Sand the desert has, but water it does not.

  2. Kai Mikkel Forlie says:

    An essential aspect of this story which was entirely overlooked by the writer is that the kind of sand in short supply both in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the world is the specific kind that is essential for the production of concrete, grout, masonry cement, etc. This happens to be sand that has been subjected to erosion by fresh (not salty) running water (like in a river). Such sand has eroded to have sharp edges and corners. In contrast, desert sand – which has primarily eroded due to the effects of wind – is more round. Rounded sand simply doesn’t work in concrete or masonry applications.

    So, the problem in that the readily available river/alluvial sand has been almost used up. Sand is very heavy so the minute that anything other than short distance trucking/transportation is factored into the equation, the local production of any sort of concrete or masonry product skyrockets.

    It’s unfortunate that this crucial aspect of the story was omitted, since without it the story doesn’t make any sense.

    For more on this vastly under-reported story see:

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