While Salopek continues to make his way through the north-east Indian state of West Bengal he has delivered an in-depth dispatch examining sand-mining in the country.
Sand is used in most modern construction and worldwide consumption of the resource is now over 40 billion tons per year. This figure is double the amount of sand that is created naturally in the world's rivers and developing countries with large populations, like India, are going to be particularly hard hit when supplies run out. In northern India, Salopek has observed the damage caused by the lucrative sand mining trade. Strip-mining in Indian rivers has caused water-tables to drop and is wiping out natural habitats for endangered species such as river dolphins and the gharial crocodile.
As well as the impact on the environment, sand-mining has led to the formation of mafia groups controlling the illegal trade. Salopek had to tread carefully, the mafia has been known to kill law enforcement officers and journalists who threaten their work. In one worrying encounter, alongside walking partner Siddharth Agarwal, Salopek was approached by a group of mafia goons who suspected they were journalists. Fortunately, the men only wanted to draw attention to a rival group who were extorting “too much” from their trucks! “Here, everyone owns a grievance—even the sand mafia,” Salopek wryly remarked.