Asmara, Eritrea — MININGREVIEW.COM — 05 February 2010 – More than a dozen foreign mining firms are now working in Eritrea, and poor villagers in the Red Sea state’s remote lowlands are also increasingly using their bare hands to claim some of the country’s riches.
Reuters reports from here that 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. Aid agencies say Eritrea’s poor are suffering widespread hunger and malnutrition.
Experts say the country’s impending mining boom will challenge oil-rich neighbours to make it easier for foreign firms to prospect across a large geological structure in the region, which is rich in base metals and gold.
Gold, copper and zinc are the main attraction for foreign explorers, and licences are held by companies from Australia, Britain, Canada, China and Libya.
Asmara holds a significant stake in the projects, but the most advanced mine “’ run by Canada’s Nevsun Resources Limited “’ will not begin production until late this year, and Asmara is unlikely to see a profit until 2012 at the earliest.
Reuters reports that 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,” economic geologist and regional expert Tucker Barrie told Reuters.
Industry officials insist the artisanal mining is not in conflict with the big foreign companies, which use modern industrial methods alongside the basic, local extraction.