The sapphire mines of Madagascar

I just finished looking at a fascinating series of photos taken
during September of this year,of Sapphire Mining in Madagascar. Quite
a story, reminiscent of the Gold Rush?

The tiny village of Ilakaka, Madagascar had barely 40 residents
before 1998. Then, a large deposit of sapphires was discovered
along a nearby riverbed, and caught the eye of some Thai
businessmen in the gem trade. Word got out, and Ilakaka swelled
to tens of thousands of residents - the center of a sapphire
boom, today the source of nearly 50% of all the sapphires in the
world. Illegal miners mixed with large-scale operations, all
operating under little or no regulation, in a wild-west
atmosphere of potential fortunes, lawlesness, violence and
hardship. In the years since, the easily-mined sapphire fields
have been picked clean, and the remaining miners often work in
deep holes, climbing far underground. Mining is also a family
effort - according to an official study, of the 21,000 children
living in the region, 19,000 belong to working families. (25