A tragic incident unfolded last week in Mali as an unregulated gold mine collapse claimed the lives of over 70 individuals, an official confirmed on Wednesday, January 24. Karim Berthe, a senior official from the National Geology and Mining Directorate, said that the search operation is still underway amid fears that the death count could rise further.
Approximately 100 people were present in the mine at the time of the collapse, as disclosed by Abdoulaye Pona, president of the Mali Chamber of Mines, who was present at the site. The incident occurred in the Kangaba district within the southwestern Koulikoro region on Friday, January 19. However, the Ministry of Mines released a statement four days later (January 23), stating that an investigation into the cause of the collapse was underway and initially estimating “several” miners dead.
Persisting tragedies in Mali’s gold mines
Such tragedies are common in Mali, Africa’s No. 3 gold producer. Artisanal miners — small-scale, informal ones — are often accused of ignoring safety measures, especially in remote areas.
“The state must bring order to this artisanal mining sector to avoid these kinds of accidents in the future,” Berthé said. The Ministry of Mines statement “deeply regretted” the collapse, and urged miners and communities living near mining sites to “comply with safety requirements.”
In recent years, there have been concerns that profits from unregulated mining in northern Mali could benefit extremists active in that part of the country. The region of this latest collapse, however, is far to the south of that and closer to the capital, Bamako.
Mining: A key sector in Mali
“Gold is by far Mali’s most important export, comprising more than 80 per cent of total exports in 2021,” according to the International Trade Administration with the US Department of Commerce. It says more than 2 million people, or more than 10 per cent of Mali’s population, depend on the mining sector for income.
Artisanal gold mining, a key contributor to Mali’s gold production, is believed to yield approximately 30 tons of gold annually, constituting 6 per cent of the country’s total gold output. The Ministry of Mines has projected that Mali possesses a substantial reserve of 800 tons in gold deposits. According to officials, the sector is supported by a considerable workforce, with an estimated 2 million gold miners engaged in operations across approximately 300 artisanal mining sites.
(With inputs from AP)