Thursday, June 17, 2010

The search for gold in Sudan

In a country where nearly half of the people live in poverty, digging for gold can be tempting. Finding gold in Sudan is entirely possible, for a quarter of the country has deposits. But the search can be dangerous, and those who go looking can wind up dead from heat exposure or from thieves.

From the Los Angeles Times, writers Alsanosi Ahmed and Jeffrey Fleishman have this fascinating story on the search for gold.

Nearly half of all Sudanese live in poverty. Twenty-eight percent of college graduates are jobless, a number likely to rise amid the global economic crisis. There's little in the way of a welfare state, so the educated and the unschooled, the desperate and the adventuresome strike out with hammers, chisels and bowls, slipping beyond hungry children and that distant ceaseless war in Darfur to the south.

When a man disappears from home, neighbors nod: "He went for gold."

It is estimated that a quarter of the country holds gold deposits. The two places most popular for mining are Southern Kordofan province near the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan and around Almahas in the north, where Sadig and six friends headed after pooling $3,000, most of it borrowed or raised from jewelry sold by sisters and mothers.

They leased a metal detector and hired a man reputed to know where to find buried riches. Off they went, hoping for a precious metal that brings about $40 a gram, or $1,230 an ounce, on world markets, but more often than not leaves a man with handfuls of shiny, worthless grit.

After exploration showed promise, Sudan's gold mining industry began in earnest in the 1990s, turning the north into a blurry landscape of tens of thousands of prospectors, some working alone, others driving house-sized trucks and earth-moving machines owned by corporations from China, India, Turkey and other countries.

"I am on vacation," said Tarig Ali, a private school teacher who earns about $160 a month. "I have decided to take a chance with my friend. If I find gold, I will quit my job and start my own business.... Why should I stay at home?"

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