Poor Eritreans Increasingly Joining Gold Rush


". . .you can find one gram in a day if you are lucky"

More than a dozen foreign mining firms are now working in Eritrea, but poor villagers in the Red Sea state's remote lowlands are also increasingly using their bare hands to claim some of the riches.

The nation is on the brink of a mining surge that could boost its agriculture-based economy, which has suffered from irregular rains and the global downturn, while aid agencies say Eritrea's poor suffer widespread hunger and malnutrition.

Experts say the country's impending mining boom will challenge oil-rich neighbors to make it easier for foreign firms to prospect across a large geological structure in the region rich in base metals and gold.

Gold, copper and zinc are the main attraction for foreign explorers, and licenses are held by companies from Australia, Britain, Canada, China and Libya.

However, some of Eritrea's poorest people are already cashing in on the nation's vast mineral potential, working in family groups to collect rocks and crush them by hand.

"The price of gold is so high at the moment that if these people, who are so poor, can find just one gram per month it is equivalent to the wage paid for national service," Tucker Barrie, an economic geologist and regional expert, told Reuters.

"But you can find one gram in a day if you are lucky."

Gold has been on a roll as investors buy the precious metal as a hedge against inflation although it slipped towards $1,100 an ounce on Thursday from $1,124.45 on Wednesday.

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