"We had an invasion of illegal miners in this park, which is our most recent protected area", says Angelo Francois Randriambeloson from the ministry of environment.
A male Indri Indri Lemur looks from a tree as he feeds on leaves in a Primary forest of a nature reserve in Andasibe, Madagascar in 2008. Knee-deep in muddy water, a 10-year-old child and a woman with braided hair lean over a large sieve, washing earth and rocks, their eyes clenched against the filthy splashing water.
The park has 2,043 identified species of plants; 85 per cent are found no where else in the world. There's also 15 species of lemurs, 30 other mammals, 89 types of birds and 129 kinds of amphibians. And that's just what's been discovered so far.
But now among the park's tall trees, a one-kilometre stretch of river valley has turned into a mudpit as thousands of Madagascar's desperately poor people have thrown up makeshift homes of branches and plastic sheets, beaten by near-daily rains.
The vast Indian Ocean island is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 81 per cent of the population living on less than $1.25 (around $1.56) a day, according to the World Bank.
Sapphires present an irresistible lure of quick riches for the lucky, who say they don't have to dig more than three metres to find large stones.
People work at the sapphire mine in Didy, Madagascar. Sapphires present an irresistible lure of quick riches for the lucky, who say they don't have to dig more than three metres to find large stones.
Madagascar is one of the world's biggest sapphire producers, selling most to Sri Lanka and Thailand for cutting and polishing.
Reaching the mine takes two days of hard walking from the small town of Didy, the closest place reachable by bush taxi. Even getting to Didi is tough. It's 300km from the capital, and less than a third of the distance is on paved roads.
The last 10 hours of the walk is through beautiful rain forest, climbing precipitous hills on barely perceptive boggy paths.
Morris, a 40-year-old aspiring miner, walked barefoot, carrying a heavy sack of rice so he would have food at the mine.
Most people spend just a few weeks here until they find one or more larger sapphires or rubies, some up to 10 grams.
People at the sapphire mine in Didy, Madagascar. A one-kilometre stretch of river valley has turned into a mudpit as thousands of desperately poor people have thrown up makeshift homes of branches and plastic sheets, beaten by near-daily rains.
"Here there are only two: blue sapphires and rubies. But there are more large ones," said Dudu, a 35-year-old buyer.
But the government wants miners to leave the park.
"We are now forming a commission and we are trying to plan a way to send the people away from the mine," said Randriambeloson. "As it's a protected park, its soil also belongs to the Malagasy state."
But people still go every day, in groups, to and from the mine. Water for washing is now hard to find, since the river is extremely dirty. There is no drinking water and not a lot of food. Informal eateries surrounded by mud and fallen branches are expensive.
A man holds a sapphire and a ruby in his hand at the sapphire mine in Didy, Madagascar.
"The place has changed, there are more people around. But there are no security problems, only sanitation ones," Didy's deputy mayor said.
The authorities in the capital Antananarivo sent in police to discourage people from mining, to little result so far.
"Once the miners are out, we will restore the damage done," Randriambeloson vowed. AFP
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Feel free to comment on this article using your Facebook account. By submitting your comment, you agree to the Terms and Conditions for the use of this comments feature, as stated here.