Monday, October 27, 2008

Sand stealing and erosion in the Caribbean

Here's an environmental issue that I was unaware of... people are stealing beach sand and using it for construction. Thanks Whitney K. for sending me the link.

Where's the economics?

For starters, the fine for stealing sand is too low in some of the nations cited in the article. We know that if the fine/fee does not correspond to actual damages incurred, the result will be an inefficient amount of the hazardous activity. Clearly there is a need for determining the economic loss associated with harvesting sand illegally so that the proper fine can be imposed (while factoring the probability of catching the offender).

Could this activity be the result of incentives created by regulation in other markets? For example, if limestone mining or legal sand mining is regulated via a tax, there is an economic incentive to seek an alternative. My understanding is that this is not the case in most of the Caribbean (in many cases mining is in fact subsidized), but it may be true in some nations.

Mostly I see this as a typical poaching problem: we have an open-access resource where use/harvest is "regulated" on paper, but the regulations are inefficient and not properly enforced.


AshtonB said...

sounds like sand stealing is one of the many "tragedy of the commons" examples and fines may need to be induced and regulations enforced to regulate use and keep the sand where it belongs!

Antonio Joyette said...

I am not sure of which country there is subsidized sand mining, but I don't believe thats the case in St. Vincent (SVG). As far as I know there are laws against mining sand at beaches. However, sand minding is still permitted. I have no proof of where the sand comes from, but I have a pretty good idea of where it maybe coming from.

The government has attempted to get in on the market by monopolizing the "rabacca stuff" (it's an aggregate of volcanic origin). But this does not address the sand issue. Illegal sand mining persists in SVG for several reasons, most significant of which are. Open access is certainly top of the list. Lack of monitoring and enforcement or legislation is another. There is also inadequate incentive or deterrent that would lead to alternative sources, material, and technology use to produce a substitute product. Another factor is fear on the part community witnesses who see and know the perpetrators- the act is not reported to the authorities, perhaps because of confidentiality issues or because nothing will be done. The price of sand is also a driving force. It's relatively high, and coupled with open access, that creates a "cow" for the pilferers to milk.

The demand for sand is high as there is a corresponding demand by the construction industry; concrete houses, commercial properties, concrete property and security perimeters, and of course roads and associated structures. Because this is so, the supply of sand being "free" leaves little overhead for the truckers who pay only for gas, the occasional spare part and a paltry sum for manual labour. Because the cost of equipment (truck) is fixed and paid up, these three are his major considerations. However, the price per "load" of sand comfortably allows him to meet all costs. At the margin, this works even more to be an incentive to continue the sand trade at all costs.

I believe, an example should be set in legislation enforcement. Anonymous tipsters should be facilitated and rewards when information leading to a conviction is provided.

Sand purchase permits should be obtained from the Dept. of Physical Planning prior to granting building permits, and these should be verified through inspection. Sand will then be obtained from any of the authorized holders of a Sand Trade Quota (STQ). These permits are transferable and revokable on summary conviction. Also like the sand purchase permits, the STQ are revokable, (with heavy fines) if convicted of Illegal Unreported and Unregulated sand trading.

There are other suggestions, but I will allow my peers to bring those to the fore.

Brandon Hamm said...

Is Grenada the only place that understands how fines are much more effective when they are worth at lest as much if not more than the possible profits from an action?? $190 really? I could get a larger fine here for throwing a cigarette butt on the ground! I know i woudnt stop stealing sand if i was making bank even after fines.

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