India's urban areas are growing at an astounding rate. That development requires an immense amount of concrete, which in turn requires an equally immense amount of sand to manufacture. Enter India's "sand mafia." The New York Times takes a deep look at the wide net of people who profit from illegal sand mining—villagers, police, developers, and sometimes actual mobsters—and the dramatic changes it's wreaking on India's waterways. For example, the village of Manimala was named for the river that passes through it in the "lushest, most watery" state in India. Then illicit sand mining arrived, the water table dropped, and the river washed away, taking with it the village's rice paddies and drinking water.
The villages themselves are often complicit in their own water troubles. Villagers are paid to mine sand in the dead of night, local police are on the take, and residents who live on the river itself charge fees to trucks coming onto their property to haul away the sand. The situation is especially frustrating because there are a couple obvious solutions. Indians could switch to a non-concrete building material, but concrete is cheap and houses made from it are culturally seen to have "prestige." And conservationists say there actually is enough sand to meet India's construction needs that it wouldn't be a problem—if only the sand mafia would stick to designated rivers that have too much sand. Read the full story here. (Read more India stories.)