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Tin Fever in Indonesia
Bangka Island, Indonesia
By Steven Wassenaar
05 Dec 2012

Famous for its tin deposits, paradisiacal Indonesian island Bangka is destroyed by a tin rush that is the direct consequence of the success of smartphones like IPhone and tablets like Ipad. More and more tin is needed to produce these devices, and every year Indonesia extracts 110,000 tons of tin. Due to a strong demand from manufacturers (such as Samsung and Apple), thousands of Indonesians want to benefit from the high tin prices.

"The number of illegal tin mines, on land or offshore, has increased dramatically because everyone wants a piece of the pie. We believe there are about ten thousand mines today", said Uday Ratno, director of the local NGO Walhi - Friends of the Earth. Illegal tin mining is a very dangerous activity and and accidents occur frequently. According to Utay Radno,every year, between 100 and 150 miners drown in the sea, die in landslides or from diseases (cancer, malaria).
"It's a dangerous job,we know that. But I have to earn a living to support my family", Abuysaid, a miner of 57 years old. The myriads of abandoned mines form - like a war landscape - dangerous polluted mining pits filled with water. Desi's two children, Juni and Abdul, 3 and 4 years old, drowned in such an abandoned pit.

The environment is severely damaged: Bangka Island is disfigured. Mines and craters are everywhere: along roads, in the middle of the jungle, off the coast and even in the gardens in front of houses. It is as if meteors have hit the whole island. Environmental organisations are warning for the consequences, and pointing out the devastation of the landscape, the pollution of the soil, the rivers and the sea with heavy metals and the damage done to underwater wildlife and flora. The miners who work on the sea on makeshift rafts dig for tin by sucking the sand from the sea floor. Some species of fish have already disappeared. Fisherman are obliged to fish far away from the coast in the hope to catch enough fish, says Tjong Ling Siaw, leader of the fishermen on the island. Hotel owners complain about a decline in tourism because of "dirty sea water and noise pollution".

Like the illegal "blood mineral" mining in South Kivu in DR Congo, Bangka is an evidence of the indirect consequences of the commercial success of big technology players who refuse to take responsibility- through actions like mineral tracking or environmental repair and health programs - for the damage that is done to people and the environment.

This reportage is a journey to the heart of the illegal and legal tin mines in Indonesia. I shared the lives of miners who explain why they chose to do this job and sometimes put their lives at risk for a few pounds of tin.