Land reclamation projects don’t usually make international headlines.
But China’s construction of islands in the South China Sea sparked a geopolitical dispute earlier this year after the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations criticized the project for threatening other nations’ sovereignty.
Tense as the moment was, land reclamation projects have a long history in Asia. The entire Hong Kong airport is built on reclaimed land, as
is 20 percent of Singapore and some Malaysian islands. Border dispute
risks are rare. The more common obstacles practitioners face during these
costly and lengthy projects are resource limitations, environmental concerns, local resistance and legislative obstacles.
A land reclamation project requires one thing
above all: sand. Reclaiming 1 square kilometer
(0.39 square miles) of land takes up to 37. 5 million cubic meters ( 1. 3 billion cubic feet) of sand
from rivers, lakes or seas—desert sand is ineffective. As a result, some areas experience shortages.
Singapore’s government is the world’s largest
sand importer, having expanded its land area
22 percent over the past 50 years and exhausted
domestic sand sources decades ago. Worried
about environmental damage, running out of
the resource or protecting sea access rights,
Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam
have banned or severely restricted sand exports,
which has led to higher prices and alleged black
Even when project managers do secure
enough sand, stakeholder protests can threaten
a reclamation project. A HKD150 billion project
to add a third runway at Hong Kong’s airport
received official confirmation in March and is
slated to be completed by 2023. But environmentalists oppose the project, saying it will disrupt the habitat of the
endangered Chinese white dolphin.
Some local resistance can often be anticipated, though the magnitude
of opposition is hard to predict, says Jeroen Overbeek, ports and marine
leader in Asia for engineering company Aurecon, Singapore. “These issues
will crop up even if you’re operating fully within the law,” Mr. Overbeek
says. “Anticipating specific project challenges is extremely difficult.”
and allocation of
in a smooth
—Jack HC Kerklaan, Akuna