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Habiba Daniel and Alwiyah Mukhtar

Miners facing the abyss in Egypt and Sudan

High commodity prices have driven mining profits [Lonely Planet]

Date of publication: 1 April, 2015

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Feature: Mine owners make record profits on the back of high commodity prices while their workers are poorly paid and face unsafe conditions.

Mining in Egypt and Sudan is big business as both countries contain valuable mineral reserves. However, it is the state and large corporations that usually reap the rewards, while the miners who risk their lives are forgotten.

Egypt

Egypt has more than 30 large mines producing coal, iron ore and gold. The Sukari gold mine on the Red Sea being one of the largest in the world. Official sources put the country's mining workforce at over 350,000, with an additional 250,000 working in support industries.

Due to the lack of government resources, the mining industry in Egypt was effectively handed to the private sector in 2008.

The mining industry was effectively handed to the private sector in 2008, after the change in the mineral resources law. As a result, miners claim that they suffer from terrible work conditions, lack health and social care and are paid badly.

Miners who have worked for five years receive a monthly salary of $198, and those who have worked for 10 years earn $460 a month, which is very low wages for the risks and the effort required in the job. Miners usually work 12-hour shifts, live in overcrowded compounds, and are not permitted to visit their families for periods of up to three months.

Miners complain about the health effects of their jobs, with respiratory illness commonn. However, because of the lack of healthcare, they are forced to suffer in silence.

Miners have also claimed that the few who have been provided healthcare were mislead by the doctors about their conditions to prevent them from going on strike.

All the while, foreign mining engineers and experts working in Egyptian mines receive full benefits as well as salaries far exceeding those of Egyptian miners.

Sudan

This situation in Sudan is not much better. The government has tried to introduce regulations for the million people employed in the industry, especially in gold mines.

But most operations in Sudan are rudimentary and rely on "traditional" extraction methods. Mining accidents are commonplace - 60 miners were killed in one accident last year when their tunnel collapsed. Other dangers are posed by the materials used to extract gold such as mercury, which has resulted in high cancer rates among workers.

Mohammad Ibrahim, a miner, said that nothing had changed despite the government's efforts.

The lure of gold makes people take great risks.
- Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed.

Ibrahim said: "We work in a very bad environment and we risk death at any moment, but the lack of opportunities on the one hand, and the reward of finding gold is what drives us to do this work."

Ahmad Mohammad Ahmad, a mining expert, said he believed that "the lure of gold makes people take great risks".

"The long period of government negligence in this sector has made people careless with their safety," he said, adding that they were being encouraged to take ever greater risks by the companies who offer them a percentage of the gold discovered.

A source in the ministry agreed that miners faced great danger in their work, saying: "The greatest danger is posed by their use of mercury." The source said miners did not follow safety procedures due to a lack of education.

However Mohammad Ibrahim, the gold miner, said: "I started working [in mining] two years ago and I have been successful in extracting gold. I have not seen any negative effects to mercury yet, but everyone tells me that the negative effects will appear after a while."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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