An explosion near a gold mining site in southwestern Burkina Faso killed 59 people and injured more than 100 others.
According to witnesses and the national television station, the explosion, which occurred Monday, was caused by chemicals used to process gold stored at the site.
The provisional toll was provided by regional authorities following the explosion in the village of Gbomblora, RTB reported.
“I saw bodies everywhere. It was horrible,” Sansan Kambou, a forest ranger who was at the scene of the explosion, told The Associated Press by phone.
The first explosion occurred at about 2 p.m., followed by other explosions as people ran for their lives, he said.
Gold is the mainstay of Burkina Faso’s economy, topping its export list. The country is Africa’s fastest-growing gold producer and its fifth-largest. The industry, which was worth about $2 billion in 2019, employs about 1.5 million people.
Smaller gold mines like Gbomblora have sprung up in recent years, with some 800 across the country. Much of the gold is smuggled to neighboring 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 EIIL (EIIL), which have staged attacks in the country since 2016. The groups reportedly raise funds by taxing miners and also use the mining sites to recruit. fighters and seeking refuge.
Mining experts say small mines have fewer regulations than industrial mines and can therefore 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 that are often smuggled into the country and used illegally,” said Marcena Hunter, senior analyst at Global Initiative, a Switzerland-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, killing 20 people. A month later, 37 civilians were killed and more than 60 injured when gunmen ambushed a convoy carrying workers from Canadian gold miner Semafo.