Magazine article New Internationalist

Blue Rules: Sapphires Create Chaos for Rural Communities

Magazine article New Internationalist

Blue Rules: Sapphires Create Chaos for Rural Communities

Article excerpt

Madagascar is in the grip of a sapphire rush that has led thousands of poor farmers to abandon their fields. People from all over the country have flocked to the south, around Sakaraha and Ilakaka, which have been transformed from tiny settlements to Wild West-style frontier towns. 'It's phenomenal,' says Dr Koto Bernard, head of the Sakaraha office of the global environment agency WWF. 'The town of Sakaraha has completely changed in the space of a year.'

No-one knows the extent of the gem deposits in the region, where savannah and red earth conceal rich reserves of sapphires in yellow, pink and blue Informal estimates put the amount circulating in the precious-stone market each day at more than $1.4 million: a staggering sum in a country that had a gross domestic product in 1998 of $234 per person.

Environmental and social groups have raised concerns about the safety of those involved. Digging is largely unregulated and done by hand by groups of people who scoop out holes ten metres or more in depth, sifting the earth in water in order to reveal gems. …

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