The salt workers of the Danakil Depression
Date: 16 June 2013
Photographer: Christina Feldt
We are in one of the cruelest and hottest inhabited places on Earth, not far from the Eritrean border: the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia. Few corners of the globe can match this wilderness of volcanoes and temperatures frequently saying hello to 60ºC. This area is home to the Afar people who crisscross the deserts with their livestock, living and surviving in one of the harshest environments on Earth. It is a place from which close to 100% of the salt production in Ethiopia comes. Teams of Afar and Tigrayans from the Ethiopian highlands gather daily to mine the salt and transport it by camel and donkey to a small town called Berahile. Then big trucks bring the salt to storage places in Mekele from where it is transported and sold to all parts of Ethiopia.
The salt miners work under very tough conditions, in which temperatures hardly drop below 50º. Many of them walk up to 2 hours to the salt falt and can take off burned flaps off skin after their work. Around 2,000 camels and 1,000 donkeys come to the salt flat every day to transport the salt tiles to Berahile, about 75 km away. This transport takes up to three days and a strict organization is behind the camel and donkey loading. Each camel can carry 30 salt tiles at 4 kg and walk up to 25 km a day. A man who has around 18 camels can earn up to 45€ with his camel transport in one week, after paying all the costs and wages.
It’s a question of time how long the salt caravans will continue transporting the salt from the salt flats to Berahile. When there is peace with Eritrea, there might be trucks coming to transport the salt tiles to the next cities and the camels might become useless. The Danakil Depression is a place where time has stopped. Like a journey to another world and time. A place where people acquire their resources and small treasures from a hostile and cruel nature. People who have developed their identity and culture out of this struggle. The salt workers of the Danakil Depression.