An explosion near a gold mining site in southwestern Burkina Faso has killed 59 people and injured more than 100 others.
According to witnesses and the national broadcaster, the explosion, which happened on Monday, was believed to have been caused by chemicals used to treat gold stocked at the site
The provisional toll was provided by regional authorities following the blast in the village of Gbomblora, RTB reported.
“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.
The first blast happened at about 2 pm, with more explosions following as people ran for their lives, he said.
Gold is the mainstay of Burkina Faso’s economy, topping its list of exports. The country is the fastest-growing gold producer in Africa as well as its fifth-largest. The industry, which was worth about $2bn in 2019, employs about 1.5 million people.
Small gold mines like Gbomblora have grown in recent years, with some 800 across the country. Much of the gold is being smuggled into neighbouring Togo, Benin, Niger, and Ghana, according to the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies.
The small-scale mines are also reportedly used by armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS), 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 smaller 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.
Recent reports also suggest a recent trend of mining companies in Burkina Faso now transporting Indigenous staff and foreign employees by air rather than by road.
In October 2019, armed groups attacked a gold mining site in the north of the country, leaving 20 people dead. A month later, 37 civilians were killed and more than 60 wounded when gunmen ambushed a convoy transporting workers of Canadian gold miner Semafo.