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Barges piled with sand traverse the sea lanes around Singapore, almost as ubiquitous as the semi trucks that ply America’s interstate highways. Aboard a small motor boat one recent afternoon, I catch sight of an imposing green wall rising from the shoreline protecting a huge sand stockpile. As one of the world’s most densely populated countries — intent on building up, down and out — Singapore couldn’t survive without millions of tons of the grainy stuff.

The city-state is slowly ticking back to life as the coronavirus lockdown eases. Yet answers to the existential questions about Singapore’s future aren’t in its glass-and-steel office towers or orchid-trimmed shopping malls or pulsing hawker centers. They’re in the water surrounding it. There, you’ll see evidence of a country half the size of Maui and among the world’s richest that’s desperate to expand.

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