Mauritania is preparing to expand its iron ore mines near Zouerate, in spite of several setbacks to the industry caused by conflict with the Algerian-backed Polisario Front last year.
Mauritania is preparing to expand its iron ore mines near Zouerate, in spite of several setbacks to the industry caused by conflict with the Algerian-backed Polisario Front last year. The mining zone is close to the border of the former Spanish Sahara, the territory claimed by the Polisario, and has been the target for several guerrilla attacks. But, in spite of this continuing threat, the National Mining Company hopes to begin a major expansion programme this year, and has announced the imminent agreement of a 500-million dollar loan to finance it. Iron ore mining is the backbone of the country's economy, and has been developed extensively in recent years.
SYNOPSIS: Explosives are a costly but essential ingredient for the open cast mining that is carried out a Zouerate. But Mauritania has overcome some of the expense by setting up its own factory to manufacture explosive. It is situated at Nouadhibou, a port city on the northwest coast.
Nouadhibou is linked to the Zouerate mining area by railway. It brings iron ore to the port for onward shipment, and explosives are sent back by return trains. The explosives factory was established in 1974, when the government nationalised mining.
One hundred men are employed in making what is called "slurry" explosives. Where many open-cast mines once used dynamite and other explosives in stick form, most now find the slurry type more convenient. Because it comes in liquid form it can be pumped into bore holes. The liquid which fills the holes completely, is more efficient than sticks forms of explosive around which are gaps.
The slurry explosive has been used in open-cast mining for about 15 years, although it has undergone various modification in composition during that time.
Iron ore represents 80 per cent of Mauritania's total exports. However, the future of the industry has been threatened by the territorial dispute over the former Spanish Sahara. The polisario's claim to the mineral-rich Western Sahara -- which was ceded to Mauritania and Morocco by Spain in 1975 -- has culminated in a series of raids on Zouerate and the railway which links it to the port at Nouadhibou.
However the head of the National Mining Company, Mr. Ould Amar, says production levels have been maintained. And with agreement on the 500-million dollar loan production could be increased by six million tons a year. The loan was being negotiated with the World Bank and several other major organisations.