By Shannon Lane @shannonroselane

THE DISCOVERY of pink sapphire in the early 90s transformed this desolate village into a bustling mining hub overnight

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Sapphires of high quality were found in alluvial deposits

Thousands of people travelled to the little village of Ilakaka, South of Madagascar seeking their fortune, making the population to grow from 85 to around 100,000 inhabitants.

Most miners find stones of little value or nothing for days or months at time

Sapphires of high quality were found in alluvial deposits, which means that to extract gems there was no need for industrial operations, as they were easily accessible to anyone willing to dig with picks and shovels.

Stories of fortunes made in the early days have attracted people from all ranks of society

Over the last 15 years illegal mining expanded across the village, resulting in deep holes and residents scavenging knee-deep in red clay.

Madagascar is the 4th poorest country in the world

Photographer Massimo Rumi visited the village in July 2017 to document the rogue miners.

He said: "Speaking to some diggers I was told that many people have lost their life, either because holes sometimes collapse without warning or because of the harmful gas in the sapphire pit.

Ninety percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day

"Outbreaks of diseases are also common, particularly cholera, due to lack of infrastructures in the overcrowded town.

"Ilakaka has also a bad reputation for violence and during my stay i had to sleep far away from town, visiting the sites only at day time escorted by soldiers.

The mining is illegal and very dangerous

"However, I have to admit that it didn’t feel dangerous at all. When shooting around, people were very welcome and smiling and didn’t mind my presence."