For a time, the land around the village of Longa Mali in eastern Cameroon was one of the most prized in Africa, and powerful machines gnawed greedily into its soil to extract precious gold.
Today, abandoned with almost the same speed as it was coveted, the landscape is as dangerous as it is damaged, say campaigners.
Around a hundred deep holes lie around the village. Many of them are filled with water, making them a deadly risk for frolicking youngsters. In other locations, subsistence miners run the risk of being buried alive as they delve in deep, narrow holes for a few flecks of gold.
Longa Mali is one of dozens of places in Cameroon that are grappling with “open tombs” — the legacy left by mining companies.
Last year, at least 47 people died on former mining sites in Cameroon’s East Region, according to an NGO called Foder, a French acronym for Forests and Rural Development.
Eugene Phausard, an official for the district of Betare Oya, graphically described the peril from “death lakes” — gaping holes that swiftly fill with water after the mining pumps are switched off and hauled away.
“Children regularly go to swim there,” ignoring the danger of playing in water that is up to 30 metres (100 feet) deep, he said.
“These holes have become open tombs,” added parish priest Patrice Baktala.