MAC: Mines and Communities

Having "cancelled" a dam, Burma's despots clear way (literally) for gold mining

Published by MAC on 2011-10-31
Source: Environmental News Service, MIzzima (2011-10-21)

There was faint praise from many quarters for the 30 September 2011 "decision" by the Burmese military regime to suspend construction of the Myitsone dam on the Irawaddy River.

The New York Times (30  September 2011) described it as a "rare concession" to public opinion.

But, according to one Burmese NGO, there is "no evidence on the ground" that the project has actually been halted.

Worse, says the Kachin Development Networking Group, the area is being cleared of people, to make way for a gold mining company that plans to dig up the villagers' land and dredge the river.

Confusingly, last week a unit of the regime announced that it planned to ban all large-scale gold mining along the country's rivers and streams, while making provisions for some small-scale miners.

However, current gold operations will be allowed to continue for the coming year.

This may actually increase the rate of exploitation and, therefore, its human and ecological destructiveness.

Myanmar Replaces Myitsone Dam Construction With Gold Mining

Environmental News Service (ENS)

21 October 2011

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar (Burma) - Just five days after Myanmar President Thein Sein announced the suspension of the Irrawaddy Myitsone dam construction due to the "will of the people," local authorities ordered residents evicted to make way for a government-led gold mining operation at the dam site.

Excavation near Tang Hpre village
Excavation near Tang Hpre village  Photo: ENS/KDNG

On September 30, President Sein told Parliament in a letter that he will suspend construction on the Myitsone Dam for the duration of his presidency. The dam was being constructed by China Power Investment to generate power for China.

The Kachin Development Networking Group has obtained an order issued by the Myitkyina Township office on October 5, which demands that all residents, private miners, and shopkeepers in Tang Hpre village move out within five days or face "punishment in accordance with existing laws."

Signed by Administrative Office Chief Nyein Htun Kyaw, the order states that it "applies to all citizens in Tang Hpre village except for the Hka Ka Bo Company, which has received an official license for gold mining in the Myitsone area in Tang Hpre Village in Myitkyina Township."

Tang Hpre village is located where the Irrawaddy River arises, at the confluence of the N'mai and Mali rivers in Kachin State. Both of these rivers flow from the Himalayan glaciers of northern Myanmar on its northeastern border with China. The river flows south and empties into the Indian Ocean, creating the Irrawaddy Delta.

The Myitkyina Township order clears the way for a joint venture between Mining Ministry No. 2 and the Kha Ka Bo Mining Company to blast river banks, excavate the land, and dredge the Irrawaddy in search of gold.

"Unregulated gold mining, often using mercury and cyanide, has been ravaging lands and rivers across Kachin State for several years, causing erosion, alteration of river flows, and toxic pollution," said the Kachin Development Networking Group in a statement today.

"The operation at the Myitsone will destroy the beauty of the confluence and directly pollute the Irrawaddy ecosystem, impacting communities living downstream," the Kachin group said.

"On the one hand the government says it loves the Irrawaddy but on the other hand they're poisoning the river at its source," said Ah Nan from Kachin Development Networking Group.

After the dam plans were announced in 2006, mining and logging concessions were granted in order to clear the dam site. Large-scale gold mining at the site began in 2010, leaving toxic mercury and cyanide that are used in the mining process to be dumped without regulation into the rivers.

The Kachin Development Networking Group warns that the Myitsone dam may go ahead anyway. There is "no evidence on the ground that the dam project has indeed been suspended," the KDNG said in a statement October 17.

KDNG has received reports from villagers in dam construction relocation camps that workers are still operating at the dam site. Ah Nan says there are two relocation camps housing about 1,000 people.

Local Kachin resistance against the dam is documented in the report "Resisting the Flood," which is online at: www.kdng.org

For earlier ENS coverage of the Myitsone dam controversy, see: Burmese President Halts Chinese Dam at Irrawaddy Headwaters

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Large-scale gold mining on rivers to be shut down; panning ok - Min Thet

Mizzima

28 October 2011

Rangoon - Small-scale panning for gold will be allowed on Burma's rivers and streams, but permits for large-scale mining will not be renewed when they expire in one year, according to the Directorate of Water Resources and Improvement of River System (DWRIRS).

"The lifetime of gold mining permits is just one year. In the past, they could renew a permit. Now, gold mining permits cannot be renewed. So, it is not allowing gold mining [in the future']," an official from Mining Enterprise No. 2 said.

In the past, the government allowed three types of gold mining along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers: small-scale, medium-scale and large-scale.

In September, Mining Enterprise No. 2 announced that it would not allow large-scale gold mining in the rivers, streams and creeks of Burma. But, traditional small-scale panning for gold would still be allowed.

"We cannot forbid people who have to rely on traditional panning for gold from doing it. As usual, there will still be people who pan for gold by using pans and sieves, but they cannot harm the river," an official from DWRIRS told Mizzima on condition of anonymity. The government banned gold mining to prevent rivers from being damaged, according to officials.

Most of the companies along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers operate gold mines using machinery, and their practices can cause water pollution and harm the environment.

Small-scale gold miners pay 260,000 (about US$ 360) kyat per year; medium-scale gold miner pay 35 per cent of the gold discovered; and large-scale gold miners pay 50 per cent of the gold discovered as taxes to government, an official from the Ministry of Mines said on condition of anonymity.

According to environmental NGOs and other groups, in 1997, the Burmese government began giving gold mining concessions to Burmese businessmen. Land was often confiscated and villagers were denied access to upland farms.

Many villagers had no alternative source of livelihood so they formed small groups and sold their land to invest in machinery and obtained gold mining permits. Traditionally villagers depended on rivers and forestlands for their livelihoods and cultural practices. The local environment has been severely affected in many areas.

A report by the Burma Environmental Working Group in June 2011 said gold mining operations have drained water sources, increased soil erosion, and polluted rivers with mercury and other chemicals. Mercury is highly toxic to the environment and poses serious risks to public health.

The vast majority of toxic wastes from gold extraction processes is disposed of untreated directly onto land and into waterways, effectively poisoning the soil and compromising water quality. Mercury and other toxics are biomagnifying in food chains and accumulate in the tissues of living organisms, with negative effects on flora and fauna, local biodiversity and human health.

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