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Artisanal miners labour by hand in Nigeria

Much of the country's minerals are dug up by artisanal miners in the north. Without the high-tech machinery that brings economies of scale, miners here lower themselves hundreds of feet into the earth to chisel gold ore.

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Local miners draw up a container from a hole that was dug to search for gold rock in Anka village in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara, Aug. 14, 2013. Much of the digging up of Nigeria’s minerals is done by artisanal miners in the largely Muslim north, bereft of the high-tech machinery that makes it safe and brings economies of scale. In the area’s artisanal mine shafts, miners lower themselves hundreds of feet into the earth to chisel gold ore. In one, four miners took turns to go in, next to a dirt heap they said was a collapsed mine shaft that had buried three people alive.

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A boy loads gold-bearing rocks into a crushing machine at a local gold mine in Bagega village in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara, Aug. 14, 2013. Mines Minister Musa Sada aims to revive mining’s contribution to the economy to 5 per cent from its current 1 per cent by 2015.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/Reuters

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A local miner crushes gold-bearing rocks with a machine at a local gold mine in Bagega village in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara Aug. 14, 2013. Like almost everything else in Nigeria’s economy, mining of metals and other solid minerals fell by the wayside when the West African nation discovered oil.

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Farm labourers sit on top of sugar cane loaded at the back of a truck along Anka-Sokoto road in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara, Aug. 13, 2013. For many northerners, the neglect of the mining sector, like that of the region’s agriculture and cotton mills, is emblematic of the way oil has shifted economic and political power to the largely Christian south – a source of resentment that has fuelled conflicts such as a four-year-old Islamist insurgency.

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A man holds a plastic filter as he prepares to wash gold dust at a local gold mine in Bagega village in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara, Aug. 14, 2013. Nigeria has yet to see the ‘big find’ needed to attract the majors. Even rosy government estimates of reserves are dwarfed by other West African states.

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A labourer works at a gold processing company in Anka village in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara, Aug. 13, 2013. Nigeria’s new-found enthusiasm for mines unhappily coincides with a period of shareholder pressure on mining companies to rein in spending, sell marginal assets and tackle debt after years of acquisitions.

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A Chinese miner sits near an industrial machine at a gold processing company in Anka village in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara, Aug. 13, 2013. Nigeria’s government ‘totally neglected solid minerals because they only care about oil. The government has neglected a lot of the northern economy,’ said Mudassir Abdullahi, a geologist with Chinese-Nigerian venture Zamfara Mining Corp.

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A boy filters gold dust in a pan at a local gold mine in Bagega village in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara, Aug. 14, 2013. Neglect of remote bits of the north was highlighted when a series of lead poisoning incidents struck Zamfara. It has killed more than 500 children since 2009, when a surge in world bullion prices spurred a gold rush there, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/Reuters

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A man and his son, with their farming tools, ride a camel along Sokoto-Anka road, in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara, Aug. 14, 2013. While artisanal mining is backbreaking work, it pays much more than traditional farming.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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Processed gold is spread outside a processing company in Anka village in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara, Aug. 13, 2013. Nigeria’s solid minerals remain untapped and largely unmapped, an anomaly in a region that is a growing source of materials such as iron ore, gold, diamonds, uranium and bauxite. Apart from gold, of which the mines ministry says 300,000 ounces are proven – equivalent to just a tenth of Ghana’s output in 2012, but six times as much is estimated – there are also an estimated 3 billion tonnes of iron ore. Guinea’s huge Simadou deposit has 2.25 billion tonnes, but that is proven.

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A clinic support staffer takes blood sample from a child at a clinic operated by Doctors without Borders (MSF) in Bagega village in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara, Aug. 14, 2013. Gold in rocks usually comes with other metals. In Zamfara, that metal is lead. Thousands of children have dangerously high lead levels in their blood, says MSF, which runs a treatment clinic there. Many are permanently brain damaged.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/Reuters

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A labourer works at a gold processing company in Anka village in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara, Aug. 13, 2013. Nigeria’s Mines Minister Musa Sada says mining majors are waiting for ‘mining laws and regulations that are in line with world best practice’ and better infrastructure before investing, and added ‘we are working hard to get those kinds of heavy investors.’

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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A local miner washes gold dust in a bowl at a local gold mine in Bagega village in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Zamfara, Aug. 14, 2013. The miners sift through the powdery rock in metal bowls filled with soap and water. Some will find gold, some won’t. ‘It depends if it’s your lucky day,’ said Salisu Shamsudeen, 21, after holding up a pea-sized ball of gold ore to the baking sun. To the untrained eye his treasure looks like tinfoil. ‘One find could make you 2,000 naira ($12.38) or 1 million naira ($6,200),’ he said, shrugging.

AKINTUNDE AKINLEYE/REUTERS

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