Amazing images of salt harvest in Ethiopia

National Geographic calls Ethiopia's Danakil Depression "the cruelest place on Earth." It's a desert wasteland, where temperatures can push past 120 F, where ancient and current lava flows impede movement, and where water is so scarce that that people build rock domes over the top of volcanic vents to trap and condense steam.

It's also a place where Ethiopian men and boys regularly travel in order to cut slabs of salt off of the surface of the Earth and haul them back to civilization. Salt flats like this occur when entire bodies of water totally evaporate. In the Danakil Depression, you'll also find salt towers and other formations caused by evaporation off of volcanic geysers and hot springs.

The photo above was taken by Reuters photographer Siegfried Modola, who traveled with a group of salt miners into the desert and then followed their haul all the way back to the marketplace. You can see his full slideshow of images online. I chose this one because it gives you a view of the salt as it's found on the ground, and the neat, rectangular blocks the merchants cut it into for shipping.

The spot is a favorite of photographers. I'd also recommend checking out the photos and story put together by Christina Feldt, who posted about the Danakil salt flats earlier this year.


  1. I’m amazed that such an arduous salt-harvesting process continues, in an area with severely limited transport links, so close to Red Sea coastline that looks fairly suitable for evaporative salt production.

    Is there some factor I’m not aware of that has supported this option instead, or is it just a matter of political togetherness issues sufficient to inhibit trade between Ethiopia and any of the nearby options with coastline(Eritrea, Djibouti, Norther Somalia)?

    1. Based on the natgeo article, it’s one of those things where the people doing it have always done it that way.. so they’ll continue doing it like they are.

      It looks like the harvested salt supplies much of Africa, so without some external force coming in and modernizing the process (which would mean someone has to decide there’s money to be made) there’s no real reason to change.

    2. I’d say chalk it up to tradition as much as anything else.  There’s an accompanying article (see link in my other post) that explains how (for better or worse) they’re just now getting a road through there.

      (In fact, they seem to have built a new regional capital from scratch, Semera, because that site is on the existing highway.)

  2. Thanks for posting this! I’d seen the Reuters article mirrored on NBC’s website (actually as a blog post), but it did not include (nor mention) any photos.

  3. Ethiopia is unique from any other country, in that modernity did not come to the country.  Ethiopia remained separate because Europeans did not colonize the country in the 19th century when all countries in the world were under colonial rule.  Everything, from writing, to calendar, Religion, is unique to Ethiopia alone its culture remained intact for centuries.  

  4. The more things change the more they stay the same., sea salt fetched top price in ancient times and served as currency, as well.  As history repeats itself many times, sea salt is the favorite highly sought delicacy in some of the toniest restaurants of the West. One major distributor told me he sells this salt to the tune of a hundred dollars per pound.  The Afars along with their region is fascinating. This same region is home to ‘ Hell on earth’ where one can observe lava in motion or as they say’ en vivo’ I cant  wait to pay visit to this region. Say December, when the Sun is around the Tropic of Capricorn. 

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