Sand mining on the rise, threatens to sink riverside towns

Over-exploitation of sand in Vietnam’s Central region, especially by unauthorized parties, has been on the rise since demands for construction materials increase, causing serious erosion that threatens people’s farms, houses and even their lives.
Illegal sand miners deploy heavy machineries on Tra Khuc River (Quang Ngai Province)
Illegal sand miners deploy heavy machineries on Tra Khuc River (Quang Ngai Province)

Sleepless nights

Most illegal sand mining vessels would stay docked during the day and only get active at night to avoid local authorities’ inspection, as told by SGGP reporters at the site.

Around 2am on the Lam River, the engines on sand stealers’ boats started roaring alongside the pumps used to suck up sand. It took only less than 20 minutes for these tens of boats to be filled up with sand, then in unison they drifted off to several gathering points downstream of this longest river in Central Vietnam.

At the junction of Ha Tinh and Nghe An Province, many raids were conducted by local police since the beginning of the dry season. Dozens of miners were arrested and vessels of various types were seized, including a transportation barge carrying nearly 70 tons of sand.

Noi Islet, in the heart of the now gone Bo River, was where villagers of Thanh Luong 2 in Huong Xuan Ward, Huong Tra Town, Thua Thien-Hue Province had been growing all their vegetables. Since 2019 however, illegal miners have been flooding to this area to mine sand, causing the islet to be seriously eroded.

In response, villagers formed task forces standing guard 24/7 to chase away the sand thieves. In the morning of April 9, they discovered a group of three boats and a barge sucking up sand from the river bed. After some struggling between the two groups, the barge was sunken and the villagers stood their ground waiting for the authorities to come.

Perturbed villages

Tra Khuc River in Quang Ngai province has been a hot spot for sand mining. There is even a massive illegal mining site that local authorities have yet to deal with. According to the villagers, this is where many local miners are stationed for generations, but in recent years unauthorized parties have been squeezing their way in for a piece of the pie.

Illegal sand miners here work in broad daylight operating all kinds of cranes, dredgers and carrying vehicles. Sand pumps are installed in the river bed, and boats sail nonstop to and from the site, transporting the sand to gathering points.

Residents along La Tinh River in Binh Dinh Province now live in constant fear of landslides. An elderly woman showed SGGP reporters a large sinkhole right in the backyard where her coconut crop used to be. “The riverbed is now so much meters deeper because of the sand theft, and people cannot fish or swim here anymore”, she said begrudgingly.

The People’s Committee of Binh Dinh Province in 2017 granted permission for non-local businesses to mine sand in the part of La Tinh river that runs through Phu Cat and Phu My Districts, so people are very upset.

Even though most sand mines are on the north bank of the river, erosions have long reached people’s houses on the south bank.

The same situation happens on the banks of Cai River, where an infamous sand mining business is stationed. According to the locals, this company would solicit smaller mining parties that come to the area to secure the source. The roads, houses and farmlands are always in danger of being wiped away by flood when too much sand has been exploited.