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A rampant desire to accumulate wealth pulses through Ilakaka's streets. There is no bank, yet it is home to businesses worth millions of dollars.

It was back in 1998 that the discovery of major sapphire deposits in the hot and rocky plains of Madagascar's southern interior sparked an extraordinary scramble for wealth.

So abundant were sapphires that they could simply be sifted from the river bed or picked up from the hot dusty earth. Fifty per cent of the world's sapphires are said to come from this lawless region.

Over time people have been forced to dig deeper in their searches. Mineshafts wide enough for one man to descend are dotted around like lunar craters.

Beneath the surface men dig in tiny cramped caves, labouring in subterranean heat, the hope of finding sapphires tempered by the constant threat of a collapsed shaft. Desperation and greed mean many are killed or die in the pursuit of the precious gems.

People & Power takes a look at the extraordinary story of Ilakaka and the 'sapphire rush' through the eyes of those effected; gem dealers, mine owners, police chiefs and miners, those who risk their lives on a daily basis in search of that one stone that they hope will transform their impoverished lives.

What is life like in Ilakaka amidst the whirlwind pursuit of profit?

This episode of People & Power aired from  December 16, 2008. 

Source: Al Jazeera