YAFTAL SUFLA : Afghans risk death and debt in dedicated hunt for gold :

Tearing off a piece of mouldy flatbread, Homayon gulped tea in a brief reprieve from the din of the machines he and dozen other men were using to dig for gold on a mountainside in north-eastern Afghanistan.

The 30-year-old found little work as a mechanic in a nearby Faizabad city, so he banded with others  unemployed men to try their luck carving out a living in the rocky mountains that dominate Badakhshan province.

'' Five, six of us were jobless,we came here to see if we can find anything.'' Homayon told AFP, as the handful of men finished their break and returned to work at the small-scale mine they had set up.

Their efforts digging four tunnels have borne little fruit, even as they pour money into fuels, tools and labour.

Other mines in the area had proved productive, Homoyan said, so they kept digging - the promise of a windfall outweighing the risks of debt.

The losses can be significant, warned fellow miner Qadir Khan. '' There are people who went into debt and were not able to find anything from these kinds of tunnels,'' he said.

'' They lost two to 3 hundred thousand [ Afghanis, or roughly $2,800 -$4,200 ] and there was nothing to do but try to find different work, make money and come back to pay their debts.''

Despite being 74, Khan says he has no choice but to keep working, as he hunches over a pile of rocks to break them into smaller pieces.

A young man stopped swirling water around a shallow dish to separate the powdery rock from gold, pulling from his pocket a bit of plastic wrapped around 4,000 Afghanis-worth of the precious metal.

As of late February, 4.5 grams [ 0.16 ounces ] of the precious metal could be sold for 18,000 Afghanis  about [$250], Homayon said.

Global gold prices hit an all-time high of $2,141.79 per ounce in March. [AFP]


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