A night with the Kawah Ijen vulcano sulfur miners

– 01.05.2014 | A few pics of my reportage in the Kawah Ijen vulcano crater (Indonesia, Java island) together with the sulfur miners.

Kawah Ijen is the volcano’s crater lake, famous for its mesmerizing turquoise hue. When darkness descends, hikers clamor to witness the glowing blue liquid fire that streams from the crater down the mountainsides. It isn’t lava, but the sulfur for which Kawah Ijen is renowned.

It is also sulfur that brings hundreds of miners to Kawah Ijen every day. They make the perilous journey climbing 2500mt. to the summit and then almost 300mt. down into the crater. The miners descend to the womb of the volcano, defying scorching heat and rarefied air, in search of the precious material that is used to manufacture countless products — from matches, rubber, insecticides and fertilizer to cosmetics, batteries, sugar and film.

Once the miners collect their sulfur, they haul the fully loaded baskets, weighing between 70 kg and 90 kg, out from the crater, climbing 60-degree slopes, and then down to the base camp.

They get 10,000 rupiah (78¢) for 10 kg of sulfur. Most of them work four or even five days a week, from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., to support their families, carrying sulfur. They earn approximately 140,000 rupiah ($11), but this money has a price: all of them have a disfigured back, deformed spines and bent legs.

Such physically demanding and hazardous work means miners’ average life expectancy barely reaches 50 years. More than 70 people have died in work-related accidents at Kawah Ijen in the 40 years, many due to the toxic fumes that billow suddenly from the rock’s fissures.

Aware of the risks they face daily, the miners don’t want their children to follow in their footsteps.


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