Ilakaka, Madagascar 2017
The discovery of pink sapphire in the early 90s transformed this desolate village into a bustling mining hub overnight.Thousands of people travelled to the little village of Ilakaka, South of Madagascar seeking their fortune, making the population to grow from 85 to around 100,000 inhabitants.
Sapphires of high quality were found in alluvial deposits, which means that to extract gems there was no need for industrial operations, as they were easily accessible to anyone willing to dig with picks and shovels.
Over the last 15 years illegal mining expanded across the village, resulting in deep holes and residents scavenging knee-deep in red clay.
Speaking to some diggers I was told that many people have lost their life, either because holes sometimes collapse without warning or because of the harmful gas in the sapphire pit.Outbreaks of diseases are also common, particularly cholera, due to lack of infrastructures in the overcrowded town.
Ilakaka has also a bad reputation for violence and during my stay i had to sleep far away from town, visiting the sites only at day time escorted by soldiers. However, I have to admit that it didn’t feel dangerous at all. When shooting around, people were very welcome and smiling and didn’t mind my presence.