Kawah Ijen volcano: what life is like for the workers of the sulfur mines

Despite being a rather dangerous place, the Kawah Ijen volcano in Indonesia it serves as a livelihood for the workers of the sulfur mines. Each day, the miners must make several trips with heavy loads of this ore, which they then exchange for money. But what is life like for the people who work in the mine? sulfurlocated very close to the volcano?

The Kawah Ijen volcano of Indonesia is characteristic for its indonesian blue lava, however, is one of the few that works as a sulfur mine. Although it is true that the way in which miners transport said material is very risky, many prefer to ignore it. Since it is the fastest way they have to earn money and bring food to their home.

What is the Kawah Ijen volcano like and where is it located?

In the eastern part of the majestic Island of Java, in Indonesia, stands imposing the Kawah Ijen Volcano, with little more than two thousand meters of altitude. It is one of the 143 active volcanoes found in the vast archipelago.

The kawah volcano as it is also known, it is part of the Ijen volcanic complex. It is located inside an extensive caldera, which is at least 20 kilometers in diameter, it is a volcano with quite unique features.

A huge lake indonesian blue lava or turquoise blue, can be seen from the top, these are waters that contain many dangerous substances. Hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, combining to form a really extreme acidity, make up the crater of the Kawah Ijen volcano. A place where most of the gases that emanate through the cracks in the ground, convert the interior of the volcano in a totally inert area.

However the Kawah Ijen volcano It has a unique quality, it is the only one of the volcanoes in the archipelago that contains sulfur inside. For what has become a mine and at the same time, the livelihood of the workers who, daily, put their lives at risk to extract sulfur.

Inside of Kawah Ijen volcanoeach of the miners extract manually, heavy blocks of sulfur, without the aid of any kind of machinery. Which means that there are more than 400 miners who work every day in the mines, to carry out a job that is not easy.

His job is to go down every day, very early, to the bottom of a crater in the kawah volcano. Place where the intense sulphurous gas that comes out of the ground condenses until it becomes a liquid substance. Once it cools, this substance solidifies into the yellow mineral known as sulfur.

But the process of extracting the ore in the kawah volcano Ijen it is not so easy for the people who work as miners on the site. To begin with, they have to make a long trek up the slope to reach the sulfur mine.

Once they reach the area where the solidified yellow substance emanates, they have to break it with the help of a metal bar. It is the only tool miners use to break up the fairly large and heavy sulfur rocks.

To move the huge pieces of ore, they use baskets made of bamboo, joined with sticks that serve to carry them on their shoulders. In addition, they take between 45 minutes and an hour to return to the top of the Kawah Ijen volcanocarrying between 70 and 90 kilos of sulfur in the baskets.

What do the miners do with the sulfur they extract from the Kawah Ijen volcano?

get to the top kawah volcano It is not even close to the end of the walk, when they reach the top they have to walk up to three kilometers, to a scale where they will weigh the sulfur. Said scale belongs to a mining company known as “PT Candi Ngrimbi”.

Since 1969, the company has been in charge of exploiting the Kawah Ijen volcano (and also its workers), to obtain the valuable sulfur. The company pays the miners for the extracted ore and then sells it to other companies, at a price that far exceeds what they originally pay the mine workers.

What is the sulfur collected from the Kawah Ijen volcano used for?

Sulfur is a very useful mineral for the manufacture of a wide variety of products, many of which are used by people. For example: hygiene and personal care products such as soaps, shampoos and some cosmetics.

Likewise, in the industrial sector, the applications for the ore extracted manually from the Kawah Ijen volcanoThey are practically infinite. When subjected to certain processes to convert it into sulfuric acid, the sulfur is used to manufacture fertilizer products. In addition, it is used for car batteries, wastewater treatment, and in some areas of oil refineries.

Similarly, sulfur is used to whiten sugar, in the manufacture of tires, plastic, paper, matches, paint and even gunpowder. So this mineral is really necessary for a large part of the industrial sectors.

Is it worth working in the sulfur mines of the Kawah Ijen volcano?

For their hard work, each worker in the sulfur mine is paid just a few five euro cents for each kilo of sulfur. A salary equal to or much higher than what they would obtain if they worked in other areas, such as: in the field.

However, the work in the mine of the kawah volcano, must be done without first signing some type of contract. In other words, none of the miners receive health insurance and what is worse, they are not given protective clothing or material.

Workers breathe only through a damp cloth or shirt that protects both their mouth and throat. Most of the time they do not use safety equipment, that is, they do not use gloves, goggles, or boots; being totally exposed. This is one of the reasons why working in the sulfur mine in the kawah volcanois considered extremely dangerous.

Sulfur is capable of burning the throat and even seriously damaging the eyes of workers. So in a short time, they can suffer from respiratory problems and permanent injuries to the gums and teeth. In addition, there are cases of miners who suffer from osteoarthritis, pain in the knees and sores on the shoulders, these caused by the weight of the sulfur blocks that they carry daily.

But that is not all that the workers of the kawah volcano they must endure, since the risks go beyond health problems. Any stumble, going up or down the narrow and dangerous slopes, could be enough to cost them their lives.

In fact, since 1960, when sulfur extraction work began at the mine, around 80 workers have died. Many of these cases were due to suffocation when inhaling toxic gases, while others were due to landslides or falls into the void. Even so; For miners, this is their best option to support their families.

work on the volcano Kawah Ijen is very harsh and dangerous, but in an area with so many active volcanoes and more than five million people living or working in dangerous places. The truth is that it is an increasingly naturalized situation.

Moreover, in some reports, workers comment on situations such as the following: “To the tourists, that seems horrible because they look with their eyes, they think we are slaves, make no mistake.”.

What do you think? Do you think that any person deserves to resort to a job as the best option to survive?

And what about the environment around the Kawah Ijen volcano?

In addition to the damage to workers’ health, the sulfur seeps into nearby rivers and contaminates crops, affecting local agricultural production.

In the same way, it affects the biodiversity of the place and favors the increase of diseases such as fluorosis. This is produced due to excessive and prolonged absorption of fluoride. Not to mention, some consider it to be the flip side of acid rain.

Is it really worth continuing to extract the sulfur from the Kawah Ijen volcano? Wouldn’t it be better to think of other alternative materials and generate safer sources of work for the inhabitants? What do you think?

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Sources: National Geographic, The country, World Diners Magazine.