7 Jan 2019

Afghanistan gold mine collapse in Badakhshan kills 30

6:16 am on 7 January 2019

At least 30 people have been killed in the collapse of a gold mine in north-eastern Afghanistan, officials say.

Working inside gold mine tunnel. Gold mining.

File photo. Photo: 123rf

Officials said the victims were villagers who were mining for gold illegally, rather than in a government project.

The collapse occurred in the Kohistan district of Badakhshan province.

"Poor villagers during winters try to compensate their earnings by pursuing illegal mining. They dig tunnels to enter the mines," Nek Mohammad Nazari, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said.

He said the tunnel had caved in, and that while a rescue team had been sent to the area villagers had already started removing bodies.

A police spokesman for Badakhshan province, Sanaullah Rohani, earlier said the cause of the accident, which occurred in heavy snowfall, was a landslide.

Villagers had reportedly dug a 60m-deep makeshift shaft in a river bed to hunt for gold and were caught in its collapse.

Afghanistan has vast mineral resources but many of the mines are old and poorly maintained, creating severe safety issues.

Villagers were reportedly using an excavator at the site when the mine collapsed. At least seven other people were injured, officials said.

"Locals rushed to the scene and managed to rescue only 13 workers," Kohistan district chief Rostam Raghi told the BBC.

"Dozens of others, including some children, died."

A spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority told AFP the families of the dead would receive 50,000 afghanis ($NZ986).

The Afghan government signed two contracts last year for the exploration of copper and gold deposits in northern provinces, to try to prevent illegal mining and move away from its dependence on foreign aid by tapping its natural resources.

Afghanistan's vast resources remain largely untapped due to the conflict with the Taliban.

The conflict has seen the rise in illegal mining both by villagers and Taliban fighters who use it as a key source of revenue.