Singapore’s development is endangering Cambodians

Us Singaporeans usually think that we’re such a small country that we’re almost insignificant as compared to the dominant West. And we always get excited when we see the word “Singapore” in a novel or have a character in a Hollywood movie utter the word. So imagine my surprise when Singapore popped up in a TIME article, the headline of which gave no indication whatsoever that Singapore was involved:

Is Cambodia Dredging its Rivers to Death?

The gist of the article is that Cambodia is over-dredging (ie. cleaning out the bed of a body of water, like rivers or harbours, in this context its referring to collecting sand from the sea bed I’m guessing) its rivers. Besides the obvious environmental damage, its affecting the lives of Cambodians as well, as fishermen have to go further out to sea to find fish to feed their families with. The reason behind collecting all this sand? Singapore’s high demand for it.


This booming Cambodian trade, according to the report, is fueled by Singapore’s voracious appetite for sand. Since splitting off from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore has become one of the world’s wealthiest countries, and as its importance has grown, so, too, has the country. According to Global Witness, since the 1960s, the island of Singapore has increased its size by 22%, or 130 square kilometers (50 miles), and the country has plans to expand at least another 50 square kilometers (20 miles). This has made Singapore one of the world’s biggest importers of sand. After Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam limited or banned sand exports because of the environmental impact of dredging, Singapore has increasingly relied on Cambodia, the report says.

Even more damn-ing stuff:

The result has been “ecologically and socially devastating,” says the Global Witness report. The NGO accuses Singapore of “hypocrisy on a grand scale” for presenting itself as a leader on green issues — even hosting the World Cities Summit with the theme of “Liveable and Sustainable Cities of the Future” — while burying its head in the sand, so to speak, and ignoring the environmental consequences in Cambodia. In a statement released on Tuesday, the Singaporean Ministry of National Development countered, “The report suggests that the Singapore government seeks to import sand without due regard to the laws or environmental impact of the source country, in this case, Cambodia. This is not true. We are committed to the protection of the global environment, and we do not condone the illegal export or smuggling of sand.” The statement added that sand is supplied by private entities that are contractually obliged not to cause adverse impact to the environment of the source country and must comply with its laws.

While Singapore sure wants to make sure that all regulations are upheld on her end, there’s little check and balance on the Cambodians’ side. It is Cambodia after all. The article goes on to elaborate on how the figures of the amount of sand exported that are reported by the government over there are purported by an NGO to be way too low to be accurate. It’s China’s Great Leap Forward all over again, except this time it’s the government itself who’s reporting false figures.

Sigh, why must it come to this

I’m not an environmentalist by any sense of the word. I’m one of those who, from time to time, forget to switch of lights and fans when I’m not using them. The main reason why this article even caught my attention is due to Singapore’s involvement in this whole fiasco. It’s just plain unpleasant to know that your country is harming the environment and the lives of others, regardless of the reasons. Now, come to think about it, with the number of civilian casualties rising and the many other ways in which Iraq and Afghanistan have been affected, I can’t begin to imagine how the average American feels; what with the War on Terror and everything.

It’s unfortunate that so much harm has to come out of exporting a seemingly insignificant thing. Singapore’s appetite for sand isn’t going to abate anytime soon, and I highly doubt Cambodia will stop exporting it anytime soon. With a profit-driven private company acting as the middle man for this transaction, this situation can only go from bad to worse in my opinion.

The world is f**ked up

When you’re a kid and you keep hearing the grown-ups around you going “The world sucks!”, you usually have no idea why they say so. But this case here is probably one of those reasons why. Under the circumstances, there’s really no easy way to diffuse the situation. The Cambodian political system isn’t going to change any time soon. As Singapore continues to expand by reclaiming more land and developing the IR and Sentosa, you can’t blame the government for needing so much sand. And it’s not like there’s an easily available alternative to Cambodia after Indonesia banned sand exports 3 years ago.

Yet, with so many problems and with so much at stake here, there’s little doubt to me that this story is going to get swept under the carpet very soon and everyone’s going to forget about it. Heck, even the Haiti earthquake which killed thousands of people just 4 months ago has more or less been forgotten by the mass media by now. Let alone the environment and a couple of fishermen from a developing country.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *