A government official on Wednesday confirmed that more than 70 people have died after an unregulated gold mine collapsed late last week in Mali, and a search continued amid fears that the toll could rise.
Karim Berthé, a senior official at the government’s National Geology and Mining Directorate, confirmed the details to The Associated Press and called it an accident.
There were around 100 people in the mine at the time of the collapse, according to Abdoulaye Pona, president of the Mali Chamber of Mines, who was at the scene.
The cause of the collapse, which happened in Kangaba district in the southwestern Koulikoro region on Friday, was under investigation. It was first reported on Tuesday in a Ministry of Mines statement that estimated “several” miners dead.
Such tragedies are common in Mali, Africa’s No. 3 gold producer. Artisanal miners — small-scale, informal ones — are often accused of ignoring safety measures, especially in remote areas.
“The state must bring order to this artisanal mining sector to avoid these kinds of accidents in the future,” Berthé said.
The Ministry of Mines statement “deeply regretted” the collapse, and urged miners and communities living near mining sites to “comply with safety requirements.”
In recent years, there have been concerns that profits from unregulated mining in northern Mali could benefit extremists active in that part of the country.
The region of this latest collapse, however, is far to the south of that and closer to the capital, Bamako.
“Gold is by far Mali’s most important export, comprising more than 80% of total exports in 2021,” according to the International Trade Administration with the U.S. Department of Commerce. It says more than 2 million people, or more than 10% of Mali’s population, depend on the mining sector for income.
Artisanal gold mining is estimated to produce around 30 tons of gold a year and represents 6% of Mali’s annual gold production.
The Ministry of Mines has estimated that the country has 800 tons of gold deposits. The country also has an estimated 2 million gold miners operating in around 300 artisanal mining sites, Pona said.