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Illegal sand mining along the Cau River, Bac Ninh province, Vietnam


Vietnam’s construction sector has been booming during the last decade, showing a vast growth of 6.5- 10% during 2000-2009, associated to a rapid increase in the development of industrial zones, residential areas, road construction, as well as sanitation and irrigation infrastructures. The rapid growth of the construction sector has been closely correlated with growing demand for river sand, coming from both legal and illegal river sand mining activities [1].

In Bac Ninh province, sand mining has occurred since many years, however sky-rocketed particularly since the year 2000, when the construction boom started there and the province’s urban population increased more than fivefold, from 4.3% in 1995, to 23.6% in 2009. The large demand of river sand for Bac Ninh’s construction industry has provoked drastic increases in illegal sand mining along the large Cau River, of which 70km flow through the province. Being an important branch in the Thai Bing River system, the Cau River is a relevant part of the water system in Northern Vietnam, increasingly under threat by sand mining. It has been reported that there are much more sand miners are active, than permissions granted. Moreover, those who have a permit surpass by far the legal limit they are allowed to mine. Consequently in 2009, the provincial authority placed a moratorium on sand mining throughout the province, denying any further permits; however this could not stop the illegal business [1].

Illegal sand mining is causing large environmental and socio-economic impacts. Regarding the first, main impacts include riverbank erosion and degradation; lowering of water tables; removing of organic matter relevant to aquatic organisms; changing water flow dynamics and temperature associated to a loss of aquatic habitats; siltation and noise pollution. Regarding the second, impacts include damages to bridges and nearby road; damages to irrigation works; damages to nearby houses and residential areas; as well as reduced fish stock; loss of river dikes and associated agricultural areas. Studies [1] have shown that the economic costs caused by sand mining along the Cau River exceed by far the benefits. But most importantly, while the environmental and economic costs of sand mining are carried by the local population of Bac Ninh, the large benefits associated to the illegal activities are appropriate by just a few actors.

Governmental efforts to control illegal sand mining along the Cau River have largely failed due to inadequate legal frameworks, lack of resources, unclear responsibilities and lack of coordination between local authorities. For example in 2009, only five inspections were conducted [1]. Local communes, in collaboration with local authorities have set up their own surveillance teams to watch illegal sand mining that increasingly occurs during nights. But due to corruption, miners often know in advance when and where surveillance teams watch the river, avoiding possible encounters. Moreover, sand miners are increasingly armed, making the potential encounters with local surveillance teams a dangerous issue [1].

So far, illegal sand mining continues along the Cau River, satisfying society's growing metabolism of construction materials, caused by a rapid urbanization process.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Illegal sand mining along the Cau River, Bac Ninh province, Vietnam
State or province:Bac Ninh province
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific commodities:Sand, gravel

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

Due to the illegal nature of the sand mining activities along the Cau River, little specific information is available. This section introduces some general information, as well as a few specific details.

On a country level, illegal sand mining has been reported from 43 provinces out of a total of 64. Estimates on large illegal sand mining spots indicate at least 659 spots at the country level, while thousands of small sand mining spots exist; turning it into a national problem [1].

Sand mining is covered by the 2005 Mineral Laws of Vietnam. Legal sand miners need permission by the responsible management agencies, which are usually the provincial people’s committee. The legal miners have to pay taxes and environmental fees and further have to assure no damage to nearby infrastructure [1]. However, few controls exist to check whether the miners exceed the granted mining capacities.

In 2006, the Bac Ninh Provincial People Committee decided that a total of 11.661 million m3 of sand could be extracted in all rivers of the province; whereas for the Cau River, the limit was set to 514,000m3. Estimates on the total sand reserves in Cau River indicated 2.27 million m3. There are 12 large and 11 small legal sand extraction spots [1].

Large parts of the extracted sand are used for ground filling of industrial zones (IZ): in total, nine IZ’s covering an area of 3,295ha are located in Bac Ninh province. Annual demand for sand from IZ development was estimated at around 1 million m3 in 2011, with a growth rate of at least 8.5 percent annually, during 2010-2015 [1].

Project area:70km2 of river lenght
Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:unknow
Start of the conflict:2000
Relevant government actors:Bac Ninh Provincial People Committee
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA); Department of Resources and Environmental Economics, Hanoi University.

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
translation missing: en.m.mobilizing_groups.fisher_people
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Police crackdowns; Seizing of vessels;
Community surveillance teams

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Other Environmental impacts, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsLandslides; dike degradation; declining fish habitats
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Deaths, Other Health impacts, Accidents, Malnutrition, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Other Health impactsIn other provinces, people have died through landslides caused by river erosion
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood
Potential: displacement
Other socio-economic impactsdeclining fish stocks; declining agricultural area due to dike degradation


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Institutional changes
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:A report published by the Department of Resources and Environmental Economics, Hanoi University on behalf of EEPSEA, recommended an improvement of the legal framework for sand mining, including clear and heavy penalties; allocation of adequate funds in order to manage, govern and mitigate legal and illegal sand mining activities; fostering increased coordination among local authorities; the establishment of surveillance teams at the commune level; as well as a wider dissemination of information for the public regarding the negative impacts of sand mining on the one side, and information on potential use of alternative materials, on the other side [for details, see [1].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Illegal sand mining goes on.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

2005 Mineral law of Vietnam

2010 Mineral Law of Vietnam

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Nguyen Mau Dung, 2011. River Sand Mining And Managament: A Case Of Cau River In Bac Ninh Province, Vietnam. Research Report No. 2011 RR7. Published by the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA)

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Viet Nam News online (09/06/2015): "Mineral exploitation comes at a cost" (accessed 30/06/2015)

Other documents

Controls of sand miners along the Cau River Source:

Meta information

Contributor:A. Scheidel (ICTA-UAB) / arnim "dot" scheidel "at" uab "dot" cat
Last update02/07/2015



Controls of sand miners along the Cau River