IN PICTURES: Kenya's gold rush

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Women pour water over ore containing gold placed inside basins in Macalder, Migori County, western Kenya, 29 February 2016.

Women pour water over ore containing gold placed inside basins in Macalder, Migori County, western Kenya, 29 February 2016.

ANAIROBI - Although a number of local and international mining firms operating in western Kenya have been granted gold exploration licences, the country&39;s gold mining industry is still young and the gold-rich areas of western Kenya remain largely unexplored, except for thousands of artisanal and small-scale miners.

The recent explorations conducted by the government and private companies are said to have revealed large gold deposits in western Kenya, which could lead to the large-scale commercial mining that could put Kenya on the map of the top gold producers in Africa.

Unemployment is high in the region, so while the work is welcome, the unregulated nature of the industry leaves men and women, and often young children, working under perilous conditions without safety equipment nor the luxury to afford such items.

After a day&39;s work in the gold mines where they are exposed to various risks - from exposure to mercury to the risk of death from the mine collapse - artisanal miners in Migori and other areas in western Kenya earn about three to five US dollars (300-500 Kenya shillings) a day.

According to the Mines and Geology Department at the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the gold capacity of Migori alone stands at 34 tonnes per year.

That could earn the country some $670 million (67 billion Kenya shillings) annually, according to a local report. 

epa’s East African chief photographer, Dai Kurokawa, took the following photographs.

Miners prepare to go underground in Osiri, Migori County, western Kenya, 1 March 2016. Credit: epa / DAI KUROKAWA

A miner at the entrance to a mine in Osiri, Migori county, western Kenya, 1 March 2016. Credit; epa / DAI KUROKAWA

A miner enters a mine in Macalder, Migori county, western Kenya, on 29 February 2016. Credit: epa / DAI KUROKAWA

A man uses a wedge and a steel bar to extract gold-containing ore, about 30 meters from the surface, at one of the gold mining sites in Macalder, Migori county, western Kenya, 29 February 2016. Credit: epa / DAI KUROKAWA

A miner taking a short break about 50 meters from the surface at a gold mining site in Osiri, Migori county, western Kenya, 1 March 2016. Credit: epa / DAI KUROKAWA

A miner chats to his colleagues as he leaves a mine with a sack of gold-containing ore in Macalder, Migori County, western Kenya, 29 February 2016. Credit: epa / DAI KUROKAWA
A miner carries sacks filled with gold-containing ore in Osiri, Migori County, western Kenya, 1 March 2016. Credit: epa/ / DAI KUROKAWA

A woman carries a basin full of ore to be washed at one of the gold mining sites in Macalder, Migori county, western Kenya, 29 February 2016. Credit: epa / DAI KUROKAWA

Women operating sluice boxes in Macalder, Migori County, western Kenya, 29 February 2016. Credit: epa / DAI KUROKAWA
A woman shovels gold ore onto homemade sluice boxes, designed to separate the precious metal in Macalder, Migori County, western Kenya, 29 February 2016. Credit: epa / DAI KUROKAWA

A woman uses her bare hands to use mercury to coagulate tiny particles of gold in a basin at one of the gold mining sites in Macalder, Migori County, western Kenya, 29 February 2016. Credit: epa / DAI KUROKAWA

The final result. A gold trader shows a piece of raw gold weighing one gram and being sold for $31 (3,100 Kenyan shillings) at his shop in Migori, western Kenya, 29 February 2016. Credit: epa / DAI KUROKAWA