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PHOTO GALLERY: Powder-covered workers toil in Egypt's quarries


Egypt
In this combination of four photos taken on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, limestone quarry workers pose for a portrait at work in the desert of Minya, southern Egypt (Photo: AP)
Egypt
This Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo shows a general view of a limestone quarry in the desert of Minya, Egypt (Photo: AP)
Egypt
In this Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo, a young worker smiles during a tea break at sunrise in the desert of Minya, southern Egypt (Photo: AP)
Egypt
In this Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo, quarry workers use machinery with sharp rotor blades to cut through limestone pits in the desert of Minya, southern Egypt (Photo: AP)
Egypt
In this Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo, limestone quarry workers walk through a cloud of dust spewed into the air by rotor blades of the stone-cutting machinery in the desert of Minya, southern Egypt (Photo: AP)
Egypt
In this Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo, freshly cut limestone bricks are arranged and ready for transport at a quarry in the desert of Minya, southern Egypt (Photo: AP)
Egypt
In this Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo, a quarry worker wearing a face mask to protect from dust pauses while arranging freshly cut stones at a quarry in the desert of Minya, southern Egypt (Photo: AP)
Egypt
In this Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo, a worker arranges freshly cut stones at a limestone quarry in the desert of Minya, southern Egypt (Photo: AP)
Egypt
In this Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo, men work at a limestone quarry at sunrise in the desert of Minya, Egypt (Photo: AP)
Egypt
In this Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo, a quarry workers wearing a face mask to protect from dust tries to stay balanced while arranging cut stones at a quarry in the desert of Minya, southern Egypt (Photo: AP)
Apr
7

In the desert of southern Egypt, workers in limestone pits look as though they stepped out of a blizzard, covered in the white powder of the stones that are the economic lifeblood of this region.

The quarries are the main employers in Minya province, some 300 kilometers (180 miles) south of Cairo. Around 45,000 people, including children, work in an estimated 1,500 quarries, digging out stones that later will be used in construction or powdered to be used by pharmaceutical and ceramic companies.


But the work, paying $7 to $13 a day, is backbreaking — and dangerous. Workers have suffered amputations and electrocutions, sometimes dying.


One laborer, 15-year-old Baskharoon Mounir, lost his left arm to a cutting machine in 2013 after working for only a month without safety equipment or training.


"I wish I could go back, even with one arm." Baskharoon says. "It would be better than staying at home, but when they see me, they do not allow me to work."

Quarry workers — many children younger than Baskharoon — are overwhelmingly day laborers. In the village of Shurafa, most wait each day on a bridge to be picked up for work by managers driving by in pickup trucks.


Deaths and injuries largely go undocumented, says Hossam Wasfy, the executive director of Wadi El Nil, a charity that focuses on child labor. In one village called Nazlet Abeed, there were 18 quarry deaths alone in 2009, he says.

After Egypt's 2011 uprising, quarry workers formed their first independent workers' union with the help of the charity, Wasfy says.


"The uprising had a mixed effect on the workers," he says. "Work opportunities may have reduced due to the economic situation, but laborers are now organizing and becoming aware of their rights."


All Photos by Associated Press photographer Mosa'ab Elshamy.
 

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