You may be thinking: But Sand is everywhere, there are whole deserts filled with the stuff. The sand in a desert, though, is useless as a construction material. The grains are out in the open and blow around for thousands of years. From a report: This rounds them off until they become useless as building blocks. Imagine trying to make a building with golf balls. In order to build, sand with angular edges must be used. The preferential type is the kind found in a river bed, sea, or beach. The fact that desert sand is useless makes for some unexpected situations. Despite being surrounded by endless miles of sand, the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, was built with sand imported from Australia. Dubai also imports sand for its beaches from Australia. Apparently desert sand doesn't do well in a beach atmosphere either. Sand also regenerates slowly. It takes thousands upon thousands of years for rock and sediment to break down into the usable grains we all rely on. The world has seen a construction boom in recent years. The base that boom is built on, quite literally, is concrete. The United Nations estimates that the world consumes more than 40 billion tons of building aggregate -- sand, gravel, and crushed stone -- each year. Some estimates predict consumption will top 50 billion tons by next year, with China alone gobbling up much of the world's concrete supply as it undergoes a massive urbanization. According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, between 2011 and 2013 China used more concrete than the U.S. used throughout the entire 20th century. Other parts of Asia, such as India, are rapidly expanding as well. The urbanization driving this construction boom, and increasing reliance on concrete, shows no signs of slowing. By 2030 the U.N. expects 60 percent of the world's population to live in urban areas. [...] One of the prime issues with sand is that it's heavy. Heavy items incur large transportation costs, especially over a long distance. The scarcity and high prices attract the attention of criminals. Why go to a legal mining area when sand can be extracted for next to nothing elsewhere? "Sand mafias" are groups of criminals that illegally dredge sand from areas where extraction is prohibited. Since they're not following laws, all environmental protocols are ignored. Often rivers are illegally mined, destroying the habitat for fish and fishermen. Sometimes land from private villages is even taken over by these mafias. If they're confronted, violence often results. And according to a 2015 Wired story on sand mafias in India, police are typically of little help: "The conventional wisdom says that many local authorities accept bribes from the sand miners to stay out of their business -- and not infrequently, are involved in the business themselves."
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