A mine in the village of Gbomblora in Burkina Faso has exploded. 59 people have been reported dead while more than 100 injured.
The accident is believed to have been caused by chemicals used to treat gold that were stocked at the site in large quantities. The first blast was heard around 2 p.m. but several other followed as workers tried to flee the scene.
“I saw bodies everywhere. It was horrible,” Sansan Kambou, a forest ranger who was at the site during the explosion, told The Associated Press by phone.
Burkina Faso is the fastest-growing gold producer in Africa and currently the fifth largest on the continent, with gold being the country’s most important export. The industry employs about 1.5 million people and was worth about $2 billion in 2019.
According to the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies. Small gold mines like Gbomblora have grown in recent years, with some 800 across the country. Much of the gold is being smuggled into neighboring Togo, Benin, Niger and Ghana.
The small-scale mines are also reportedly used by jihadis linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State, which have staged attacks in the country since 2016. The groups reportedly raise funds by taxing miners, and also use the mine sites for recruiting fighters and seeking refuge. Mining experts say the small-scale mines have fewer regulations than industrial ones and thus can be more dangerous.
“The limited regulation of the artisanal and small-scale mining sector contributes to increased risks that can be very dangerous, including the use of explosives which are often smuggled into the country and used illegally,” said Marcena Hunter, senior analyst at Global Initiative, a Swiss-based think tank.