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The Killid Group
Young and old gold hunters in KokchaWritten by Nasratullah Temor in Takhar
Saturday, 21 May 2011 12:37
There are about 400 tunnels, some of them as deep as 700 meters, in Kokcha District in the northeastern Takhar Province where thousands of people are involved in unsafe and illegal mining, a Killid investigative report reveals.
The gold miners, 6-75 years age, use different primitive tools to dig holes inside the risky tunnels and extract precious stones and crude gold.
"I don't measure the space I excavate but I dig up as far as I can see - perhaps 700-800 meters - and then I pile up the debris and carry them to the river where I wash away the gold," said Sirajuddin, a gold miner. He said a good labour day would earn him 6,000-8,000 Afghanis worth of gold.
Naqibullah, 7, is a child labourer and a gold miner who works hard to help feed his extended family. "Sometimes when we find clues for a good cache, we work until 12 AM because we don't want to lose it," he said.
The gold tunnels are scattered across the district which is one of the remotest places in the country and where people have little if any awareness about mining laws, environmental preservation, health and other issues related to their activities.
Tahir Khan, a local mining official, said that officials were aware of the gold mining in Kokcha but did not take any action to stop it. "It's a kind of help and generosity to the poor people here," he said. Abdul Jabar Taqwa, the governor of Takhar, said that most gold miners were poor and vulnerable people who were risking their lives to earn a living.
However, the alleged "help and generosity" is illegal under the country's constitution and the mining laws clearly stipulate that all minerals are public properties and must not be used for personal benefit.
The final products are sold in a so-called "gold bazaar" which attracts sellers and buyers from across the province. About 3.5 kg of crude gold is sold or exchanged for other commodities in the bazaar almost on daily basis, several vendors said. The gold then flows to bigger jewelry markets inside and outside the country where refining, polishing and processing facilities are available.
"I sell my gold in the bazaar every weekend and then buy wheat flour, cooking oil, sugar, medicines and other necessary items," said one local man, Ulya Qul.
Afghanistan's mineral wealth has been estimated at $3-4 trillion which has largely remained untouched. Officials in the Ministry of Mines in Kabul say efforts are underway to attract foreign investments in the country's mining sector which would contribute to economic growth and job opportunities.