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Born in Snake Park

One of Johannesburg’s mine dumps blows toxic and radioactive dust across the impoverished settlement of Snake
Park. The air is thick with yellow dust that contains high levels of uranium and a cocktail of heavy metals like lead,
mercury, arsenic, cadmium and chrome. This apartheid legacy of South African gold mining plays out in birth
defects such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy and Down syndrome. Al Jazeera, South Africa, 2023.

Faithful waters

The Danube Delta, located between Romania and Ukraine, hosts a rich cultural heritage. Throughout the centuries, ethnic Bulgarian, Jewish, Russian, Gagauzian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Moldovan and Lipovan communities have found refuge in Europe’s largest remaining natural wetland. Despite nazism, fascism, Stalinism and communism, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the communities have preserved their historical, cultural and religious heritage, as well as their languages and traditions. National Geographic Society project, 2021.

Coal Town

Smokestacks dominate. The Matimba and Medupi power stations lord over shacks, farms, houses, schools, busy churches, emptying shops and gun stores arming a vast hunting industry. There’s a McDonald’s. And, underneath the carbon dioxide plume, the coal town of Lephalale roils in anger, racism, corruption and fading hope. South Africa, National Geographic Project, 2019.

Maître Chou

In 2018, Ebola fever hit the rainforest village of Ikoko-Impenge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The teacher Maître Chou Biliya-Mola was its first victim. The disease is highly contagious and often fatal – with devastating consequences for entire families. The aftermath of the epidemic in the province of Équateur.

De Groene Amsterdammer, De nasmaak van de dood
Tages-Anzeiger, Händewaschen und Fiebermessen
Süddeutsche Zeitung, Das Virus und der Krieg

God was Angry

Ethiopia has a population of over 100 million but only 164 schools for students with hearing, visual and
intellectual impairments. Girls with disabilities also face systematic and violent abuse at home and in their
communities: they are feared for being under the spell of witchcraft. One in three girls living with a disability
has been sexually assaulted. Ethiopia, 2018-2020.

Fighting violence with beats

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, street rappers fight President Joseph Kabila’s government with music.

Al Jazeera, 2019. See online here

The Garimpeiros of Bandire

Sustainable gold mining in Manica Province, Mozambique

Published in the Mail&Guardian, 2016

Manica Province in central Mozambique is experiencing a gold rush which has devastating environmental impacts. The concerned government has established artisanal miner’s associations in order to engage in more sustainable mining practices.

Many rivers in central Mozambique are of a deep red colour. The loss of nutrient rich soil is one of the biggest environmental impacts of illegal gold mining in Manica Province. Polluted with muddy sediment and contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury, the rivers’ water is not only undrinkable but even harmful for human and livestock consumption or crop irrigation. The water becomes as infertile as the land that is left unsuitable for cultivation, with open pits and abandoned shafts.

Small scale mining has developed into the province’s second largest economic activity after agriculture with about 20.000 mostly illegal gold diggers – garimpeiros in Portuguese – living precariously in the search for survival. Only about 1.500 of the miners are organised in associations and thus operate legally. It took Eduardo Ndunguro, geologist of the provincial mining directorate, more than 7 years to create the Associação Mineira de Bandire in order to license prospecting and engage in sustainable mining practices.

With methods as rudimental as their gold mining, the association’s 300 members avoid contamination of their river Nyamakwio and achieve soil recovery for agricultural use. Instead of taking the auriferous soil to the stream, the water is pumped up to the individual pits. Only there is it dissolved and mixed with mercury to amalgamate the precious metal. After the pits are exhausted, they are refilled with excavated material and ground cover is slowly renaturated. The small river has cleared up with fish coming back; and the association has started replanting indigenous tree species around the village of Munhinga.

Though mining remains the biggest source of water pollution, loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation in Manica province, the association’s efforts have greatly improved life in Munhinga village.

Sea Nomads of Sulawesi

Around the Banggai Islands in Sulawesi, an Indonesian archipelago east of Borneo, there are wooden stilt villages in the clear, turquoise-blue water. Here live the Bajau, an indigenous sea nomad people known for their genetic adaptation to freediving – they can hold their breath for up to thirteen minutes. But the idyll under palm trees is deceptive. Village elder Pa Sumurdin says that both humans and fish have lost their bearings. The young Bajau no longer offer betel nuts to the gods of the sea to appease them but are using bombs and poison to catch fish. De Groene Amsterdammer/ Süddeutsche Zeitung, Indonesia, 2018.

The Guests

Turkey hosts more than 2.5 million Syrians displaced by the ongoing war in the neighbouring state, more than any other country. Half of these Syrian refugees are children. 30 Syrian families live in this camp next to the road; most fled from Kobane or Aleppo a few months ago. Everyone, except a few pregnant women, works as day labourers in the surrounding fields, picking carrots or digging potatoes. They earn between 15 and 25 TL (5-8 EUR) daily. The children don’t go to school and must start working as young as 13. Kirikhan/Antakya, Turkey, 2016.