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mining

Lieutenant Ponce Pilate Mbenga, a Central African Army officer with the Chinko Project, looks on as one of the rangers examines a leopard skin confiscated from Mbororo poachers during a camp raid.

The Fight for Chinko

In the ungoverned wilds of the Central African Republic, a group of young conservationists uses every resource it can muster—from technology to armed confrontation—to protect a vital habitat.

The approach to La Rinconada, a gold-mining town nestled under a glacier in the Peruvian Andes.

Dreaming of El Dorado

Senna has pounded rock; she has ground it to gravel with her feet, she has teetered under heavy bags of crushed stone. But she was never lucky as a child miner; she never found even the faintest glimmer of gold. Today, with her father dead and her mother bordering on desperation, she makes fancy gelatins and sells them to men as they come and go from the mine shafts that pock the unforgiving face of Mount Ananea. When she is asked why she slogs through mud and snow for a few hours of school every day, as few children do, she says she wants to be a poet. She is fourteen years old.

Mother of God, Child of Zeus

I want to lie like the street dogs do, bare stomach skyward, inviting the lightest touch of breeze. The men here rest that way too, in plastic chairs shaded by blue-tarp awnings, T-shirts hiked up over their bellies. Small, naked children sprawl, listless, on the cool tile floors of Laberinto’s gold-buying shops along the southern bank of Peru’s broad Rio Madre de Dios.

Digging Out

The miners take turns chopping the coalface. All around us a jury-rigged jumble of tree trunks is wedged against the tunnel’s ceiling, our only protection from being crushed by the five hundred meters of rock between here and the floor of the northern Afghan desert. My claustrophobia mounts with every chunk of coal that dings off my plastic helmet. One miner crouches in the access shaft and shovels coal into an iron railcar. My headlamp catches his face, and I see his teeth are flecked with black.

Here Everything is Poison

Cold winds carry lead-filled dust from a nearby slagheap, a hundred million tonnes of toxic tailings, and scatter it on clothes hanging from laundry lines, on open buckets of drinking water, on the dirt children play in, and on the feral dogs running down alleys in this former French army barracks housing about 250 displaced Roma men, women, and children.

The Price of the Paperless Revolution

We hiked along a twisting, curse-worthy trail down the craggy face of Brownsberg plateau, hacking our way toward Witi Creek. I had been told by the administrators of the Central Suriname Nature Reserve that many of the waterways that snaked through the country’s only national park on the northern edge of the Amazon were dotted with illegal gold mines, but I wanted to see for myself.

Jharia Burning

At the center of Dhanbad City, in the Jharia region of northeastern India, amid a handful of concrete buildings, stands the enormous bronze statue of a coal miner. He is shirtless, muscular, and handsome. He strides doggedly forward, a mining helmet on his head, a pickax slung over his shoulder. The message is clear: Coal is my life.

Father Copper

When Carmen Ahumada first looked on the copper mining city of Calama, she wanted to die. It was 1958, long after Germany’s World War I-era invention of artificial saltpeter—the main ingredient in bombs—brought Chile’s glory days as a world supplier to an end and made obsolete the tiny, arduous saltpeter towns that had cropped up all over the Atacama Desert.

A miner piles salt to drain and cure on the edge of Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat. A fifty kilo bag sells for three bolivianos, about fifty cents.

The Solution: Bolivia’s Lithium Dreams

The 4,086-square-mile Salar de Uyuni is remote, flat as a billiard table, twice the size of Rhode Island—and it hides a great treasure. The billions of gallons of mineral-rich brine just below its crystalline surface hold perhaps half the world’s supply of lithium.

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