Name: Giorgio Bianchi Website: www.giorgiobianchiphotojournalist.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Istagram: giorgio.aki Skype: giorgio.aki Tel: +393402759145 Giorgio Bianchi is an Italian...
A group of workers leaving their workplace as the news reached them of a fellow miner death after an accident in a nearby village. In case of a fatal accident extraction activities are suspended to allow for investigations from mine authorities.
An gold mine worker descends into a pit. There are no safety measures in the mine, no ropes or guiding of any sort down to the subterranean galleries where there are no lights, joists or beams. The work is extremely tough. A narcotic cocktail, sold by the mine ‘pharmacist’ and swallowed every six hours, keeps up the miners’ courage and numbs physical pain.
Inside a gold mine. The miners work in two 12-hour shifts, first digging a shaft to the depth of the gold-bearing stratum, and then carving horizontally as they follow the gold veins. Dynamite is used to expose the precious metal. The valuable rocks are packed in sacks and hoisted up.
Inside a gold mine. The miners descend into the dark pit, digging by hands and by pickaxe, and send up the broken ore into bags of about 30kg. Each bag of stones the men dig up is theirs to keep, but they have to agree a price per bag before they can go down and start working. Accidents are frequent, most of all during the monsoon season, which may cause sudden flooding.
Inside a gold mine. The mines are dug by men, women and children. There are always ropes for the buckets of ore but not always for the boys who scrabble up and down the pits, finding footholds and hand holds in the dirt walls. Losing grip here could be fatal.
Miner takes a break while working at 70 meters of depth. Inside the galleries working conditions are astonishingly hard. Miners work in pitch dark using only little low quality flashlights; the temperature is extremely high, reaching at times up to 50 degrees.
Inside a gold mine Mustafa has been digging a new pit with his team for the past two months. Currently they are at the depth of fifteen meters. They hope to strike a vein of gold soon. These pits become unusable in the rainy season because the ground here is dangerously fragile.
A young miner inside a mine. The workers are mostly young men, working extremely long shifts, generally from 6am until 7pm, seven days a week; usually the mines are closed on Friday, which is praying day and pay day. Sometimes they go back in the evening to do a further two to four hours’ work. Most of them have never been to school and cannot read or write.
A group of miners, using a plastic tube, is trying to establish communication with fellow miners whom, located at 150 meters depth, are trying to place dynamite. In the deepest areas of the mines very basic, hand manoeuvred capstans are used to facilitate miners going up or down as well as the movement of sacks containing the broken rocks. Air circulation is maintained using a solar powered ventilator that push air through a rudimental conduct made of plastic garbage sacks.
The landscape of Yabonsgo in Burkina Faso, a community in the north-west African country, is suffering considerable environmental damages because of the increase in gold mining. Across the country, vast expanses of farm land and savannah vegetation have been illegally cleared.
At the end of their shift workers queues to wash away the layers of dust that accumulated over their skin throughout the day. The high water consumption linked with the extraction process is heavily contributing to the deforestation and consequent drying of the area.
The house of a miner in Gosei. Miners can go without income for months at a time. Still, the payoff can be substantial: stories abound of miners finding hugely profitable veins and becoming rich enough to buy luxury cars and motorcycles. Most miners are less fortunate.
A trader weighs gold nuggets inside his hut in mining town of Gosei. There are over 200 artisanal mining licenses (AAMs) in Burkina Faso, but AAMs are never held by small-scale orpaillage miners; they are usually held by wealthy elites from the capital. The orpaillage miners are forced to sell their gold to the AAM holder, who buys the gold at a lower price.
A family of mine workers outside their home in Burkina Faso's Sahel region, near the Malian border. Gold seekers from all over Burkina Faso come to work at sites like Gosei, where they often live in straw boxes without any infrastructure at all.
A straw hut covered with plastic garbage sacks that is set up as a cinema. The cinema, powered by solar panels, broadcasts all day either burkinabè soap operas, American action movies or French, Spanish and Italian soccer games.
The word “mine” brings to mind a time in the past, a time of fatal accidents and extremely harsh working conditions, but in reality, even if not in bright daylight, such time is still reality, with capitalism gaining many of its resources from mining activities. Gold extraction in Burkina Faso has two different faces: it can be industrial or artisanal. The first is the one operated mainly by private companies that are authorized by government concessions, while the latter is mainly controlled by local clans. As one can imagine this is generating a parallel illegal market managed mainly by foreigners that will then bring the gold illegally out of the country. In Burkina Faso almost 1 million people, out of a population of 18, is surviving thanks to orpaillage, the artisanal extraction of gold from illegal mines. According to local authorities illegal mines in the country are around a thousand, producing up to two tons a year of gold. Working in an artisanal mine is extremely tough, using rudimental tools and in complete absence of any safety measure. Miners have to descend into vertical tunnels 70 meters deep on average, but that can reach up to 200 meters, using little cavities carved in the walls, in what resembles some sort of reverse free climbing. Once at the bottom of the pit, the rocks are broken up using a pickaxe or sometimes dynamite, and the stones are then brought up in sacks that weight between 40 and 50 kilos. Inside those narrow tunnels, barely allowing a man to pass through them, the pitch dark is only partially lit up by the small flashlights miners place on their forehead: the heat inside the tunnel is suffocating. Accidents, often fatal, are very frequent, mainly during the rainy season. To note that in theory extraction should be forbidden during the rainy seasons, however in practice this interdiction is often ignored. Mining activities involve whole families at once, including women and children; women, are used for grinding the stones and for straining the resulting dust, while children are bringing water to miners and sometimes descend themselves as well into the tunnels. An additional consideration is around the environmental impact of orpaillage: on top of the massive deforestation put in place to access more mine sites, many polluting substances, such as cyanide and mercury, are introduced in the environment during the gold purification process.