Toil and risk: The life of the sand diggers of Mali

Published on 12.10.2018 at 17h54 by AFP

A building boom in the Malian capital Bamako has triggered a surge in demand for bricks made from high-quality sand dug by hand from the bed of the Niger River.

The work is arduous, risky and, by many standards, poorly paid.

Diggers sometimes travel more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Bamako to reach an extraction site.

Once there, they dive down to the river bed, sometimes to depths of three metres (10 feet), filling up buckets by hand and then hauling them up to a boat.

The job carries many dangers, from the treacherous currents of the river to powerful storms that can imperil their fragile craft.

A boat can carry up to 10 tonnes of sand, which is sold for around 50,000 CFA (around $80).

The men earn between 9,000 to 13,000 CFA francs (around $16 to $23, 14 to 20 euros) for three days’ work.

The sand is unloaded back in Bamako by women, who earn 1,000 CFA (around $1.75) per shipment.

The industry is illegal and the number of people in it is unclear, but the figure seems to be in the thousands.

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 182nd out of 190 countries in the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Index.

GDP per capita in 2016 was just $2,100, according to the CIA World Factbook.

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