I’d already heard stories of the Komabangou gold mine but whilst describing the workings to me World Vision’s Justin Byworth had purposely not told me what it was really like.
We travelled by car from Niamey, a journey that took nearly three hours across dirt tracks disguised as roads, dry rivers and then across country with an armed escort. Our destination, the government de-commissioned gold mine of Komabangou and the frontier village that has been created around it.
Situated 60km away from the nearest town, thousands of families have travelled here, not in search of untold riches but simply in order to survive. Proud, hardworking families whose crops have failed due to the drought and are now living in what looks to me, like the edge of hell.
It’s hot in Komabangou, really hot, 49 degrees hot and the work in the gold mine is backbreaking, monotonous and rarely fruitful. That is how desperate these families are.
The landscape is lifted from a sci-fi movie; only this is reality for the people living here with no possessions, no money, no food, no water and very little hope.
We met Fatimata at the World Vision run health clinic, her son, Soumaila (2) is suffering from sever acute malnutrition. His tummy is distended, he has an umbilical hernia, his eyes are lifeless and he struggles to sit unaided. He weighs just 8.1kg.
|Soumalia suffering from sever acute malnutrition|
Fatimata gave birth to Soumalia alone on the floor of her home without medical assistance or anyone to help her. I asked if she had been afraid, she laughed before telling that its how all babies are born here.
Soumalia has been receiving the Plumpy Sup supplement from the clinic for the last week and his weight has improved but he has not. Whilst we were there Soumalia was referred to a hospital in Terra, 60km away but with no money or transport things don’t look great for them.
Fatimata’s husband Ali, works in the mine but they are struggling. They have an older daughter Aicha (6) and Ali has a second wife with three more children.
|Fatimata and family outside her home|
Some days they eat two meals but most days just one. When they have little money that meal will be two tins of cassava flower that cost 27p each. The two tins will be shared between all eight members of the family.
When Fatimata wakes in the morning the first thing that she thinks about is where she is going to get food for that day. If she has no money, she will ask friends in the village to lend her some food. There is a strong feeling of community in Komabangou.
Things weren’t always like this for Fatimata, back in her home village of Sourghaybangu, 400km away her family are landowners but the drought has been so sever that their crops failed and the goldmine was their only option. Fatimata told us quite simply that if they had stayed in their village then they would already have died from starvation.
Komabangou isn’t the gold rush. The environment is harsh. The work is dangerous and the tunnels collapse on a regular basis. The average life expectancy of a miner is just 45 years.
|Mine shaft with winch|
The men are winched down very narrow tunnels into mines up to 125ft deep where they chip away at the white quartz with their tools before winching buckets of rocks back to the surface for processing.
|Fatima Ali (14) gold mining : Image Mike Goldwater|
Processing is smashing the rocks into a fine granular consistency before washing, sieving, washing, sieving, washing, sieving…
It’s hard to imagine that they every find any gold here but that’s just how desperate these people are, any scrap no matter how minute is worth searching for.
|Hard work pays off. This 10grams of gold is worth £245|
Doctor Abdul Karim Issaka of the World Vision clinic is very worried about the effects of the food crisis. He says: “Since December the number of severely malnourished children has been rising. I see on average 50 children a month who are malnourished. Around 20 of them are acutely malnourished. Two children died here last week from malnutrition.
There is only enough Plumpy Nut left for two more clinics in Komabangou.
|Plumpy Sup and Plumpy Nut supplies are short|
Please help #ShareNiger by mentioning the hashtag on Twitter and if you would like to make a donation to the World Vision West Africa appeal, please visit their page. Donations of any amount are welcomed.