SAMANGAN, Afghanistan – Noorullah says he’s 18, but he looks years younger, despite the layer of coal dust on his slender face. Huddled in the darkness of a narrow coal-mining tunnel near the Dan-e-Tor—“Black Mouth”—village in the northern Afghan province of Samangan, he looks far too young to be working deep in a coal mine. Illuminated in the thin beam of his headlight, Noorullah’s profound exhaustion is clear to see.
It’s backbreaking work for someone of any age—Noorullah and his fellow miners spend between 12 and 15 hours a day crouched in these claustrophobic tunnels, chipping away at the coal by hand. In the roughly six-foot-wide tunnel, there isn’t enough room to swing a pickaxe, so the miners use a small iron bar to painstakingly chip away at the thin coal seam.
Each miner digs away at the coal for 10 or 15 minutes and then hands off the iron bar to someone else while they catch a breath. Working as a digger earns each young man about 500 Afghanis per day—less than $7. Those who do less-strenuous work, guiding coal-laden donkeys along the twisting paths to the valley floor, earn even less, around $3 per day.
As costs of living continue to rise across the country, even this hard labor is barely enough to sustain them and their families.
On April 25, Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar issued a statement outlining a renewed focus on Afghanistan’s domestic energy production, much of which is currently imported.
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