Aug 23 - More than a quarter of a million Sudanese are trying to make their fortune from the country's gold resources despite the dangers, and before the big mining firms move in. Joanne Nicholson reports.
This could be part of Africa's biggest gold reserve. In the River Nile state in Sudan, these artisan miners are just a few of the hundreds of thousands joining a gold rush before the big companies can take over. Mine owner Yahia Adam says it's tough being a smaller operator. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) YAHIA ADAM, MINE OWNER, SAYING: "When we receive the stones for milling we benefit only from 30 percent and the rest is lost in the air and the earth. Maybe the bigger companies can benefit from the rest, but we only benefit from 30 percent." The price of gold spiked in Sudan in 2011 when it produced 10 tons of gold. 2013 could be a bumper year. Osman Hamad is from the Khartoum Stock exchange (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) OSMAN HAMAD, KHARTOUM STOCK MANAGER, SAYING: "The amount of gold production expected in 2013 is about 50 tones with an expected revenue of 2.5 out of 10 billion US dollars." Sudan hopes to replace oil with gold as a source of income. Oil had been the main earner for the country but it lost three quarters of its production when South Sudan split off in 2011. The official inflation figure hovers around 40 percent, crippling workers like these who struggle with the cost of food and fuel. Many have died in mine collapses. And it's a danger to their health. Dr Suleiman is from Sudan's academy of science (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) DR. SUAD MOHAMMED SULEIMAN, ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH EXPERT, SUDAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCE, SAYING: "The workers who are not trained in gold mining do not know the proper use of the chemicals to extract the gold such us how to use the mercury." Up til now the shine of Khartoum's gold markets has been luring the artisan miners hoping to earn their living. There's already been heavy fighting between groups vying for a stake in the resource. That's something the big firms will have to think about once their licenses to mine take hold.