LEAD IN :
The recent conflict in Mali did not slow the pace of development in the capital, Bamako.
As the city expands, the demand for building materials is growing, and this is having consequences on the environment.
The mighty Niger river has traditionally provided a livelihood for the people that live along its banks.
Now the need for sand from the river is threatening the traditional industries of fishing and oil.
Some fear the exploitation of the river bed has consequences for the delicate equilibrium of the river.
But for the sand divers that plunder the river banks, the rewards are rich.
The sand divers begin their journey at sunrise, setting off by pirogue (traditional boats) along the River Niger.
They travel fifty kilometres (31 miles) from the Kalaban-Koro harbour in the Mali capital, Bamako to set anchor in Djoliba.
The waterway has traditionally been the source of oil and food for many that live along the river.
But now the dig for sand is changing the way of life on the river.
Many of the sand workers come from the north of Mali, and are residents of cities on the banks of the Niger.
Mining sand is more profitable than setting fishing nets.
Each man can earn up to 6 500 FCFA (Franc de la Communaut� Financi�re d'Afrique) a day (10 euros/ $14 US Dollars) which is a good salary in Mali, where the legal minimum salary is 45 euros ($62 dollars) per month.
When they arrive at the spot in the river that they want to mine, they strip off and jump into the river, returning to the surface with buckets full of sand dredged from the riverbed.
The sand divers work without breathing aids and often dive as deep as three metres to dig out the sand by hand.
Toure, a sand diver originally from Timbukutu says that it is hard work but the rewards are worth it.
" I can say that everything is difficult in this work. Water is cold, work in itself is hard. There is nothing easy but it's noble work. We earn our living by the sweat of our brow."
After just two or three hours the pirogues are full and the men join up to fifteen boats, laden with sand, together for the journey home.
Back in Bamako it will be sold for use in the construction industry for the booming city.
But the industry has attracted criticism from the government agency responsible for the Niger river.
Bougouzanga Goita is the director of the Niger River Agency, a government body.
He says that sand mining is not regulated and it is harming the delicate river environment.
" A study showed that sand mining is digging the bottom of the river, which has consequences on banks collapsing. And when 'fish house' is disturbed there is consequences on fish reproduction. Egg-laying is disturbed, eggs are exposed "
A report published in 2011 was carried out by IRD (Institut de recherche pour le d�veloppement) carried out in 2011, a French research organisation which studies the relationship between man and its environment, in Africa, Mediterranean, Latin America, Asia and the French tropical overseas territories, in collaboration with Malian National Direction of Hydraulique and French universities.
It found that between 15 and 20 millions of cubic metres (m3) of material may have been taken from the river between 2000 and 2006 from around 90 miles (144 kilometres) north from Bamako to 90 miles (144 kilometres) south from Bamako.
The report authors warned that the river is actually becoming deeper in places, by several centimetres annually and that depletion of the river bed resulted in the loss of arable land, deterioration of infrastructure, bridges etc and loss of fisheries, due to fishing being disturbed and lack of access of local people to water sources.
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