MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma's fatally-jaded mines

Published by MAC on 2019-05-02
Source: The Guardian, Associated Press, Mynamar Today, AA (2019-05-25)

Over 5O people killed

A disaster, reminiscent of the fatal deluge of  mud which struck Vale's Brumadinho tailings dam early this year,  inundated homes in Burma's Hpakant region late last month.

Over fifty persons are presumed to have been killed.

Although the rescue mission has now been called off,  the jade mining "industry" is notorious for military involvement, while government authorities seem to be distinctly dismissive of  its dire human consequences.

Hpakant Mine Disaster Villagers Fear More Landslides as Government

Associated Press

25 April 2019

Following a deadly mudslide earlier this week at a mine in the Hpakant
jade mining region of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, local residents on
Friday expressed concern about future landslides triggered by the collapse
of mounds of cast-off earth and water and the possible destruction of
their homes.

Fifty-four miners were buried along with 40 mining machines, including
bulldozers and backhoes, when a lake of cast-off earth and water
collapsed, triggering the slide late Monday night, sources told RFA [RadioFree Asia]'s
Myanmar Service in an earlier report.

As of Wednesday, recovery teams had pulled four bodies from the sludge
left by the mudslide, Agence France-Presse reported.

A Hpakant resident named Nwe said she and others who reside in the area
are concerned that their homes will collapse in landslides during the
monsoon season, which runs from late May through October.

“I am really scared when it rains heavily,” she said. “I’m concerned for
my kids. As an adult, I could escape from the disaster, but it would not
be the case for the children. I am concerned my house will be washed away
if the heavy rains cause further landslides.”

Her home used to sit on smooth land, but landslides from the dumping of
mining tailings in the area have caused its foundation to slide, Nwe said.

“You can see the land condition now,” she said. “I can no longer push up
the building’s columns by placing stones against them.”

Hpakant resident Tin Hla told RFA that the ground beneath houses near jade
mines becomes unsteady whenever it rains.

“The houses become shaky when it rains at night,” she said. “We are too
scared to sleep at home since the ground beneath the house is already
cracking. We tried propping up the house from below to keep it stable, but
the more we prop it up, the more the land falls.”

“We don’t want to do the propping up anymore,” she added. “I want those
who are responsible to repair the ground.”

Since early February, houses in the area have become wobbly and now appear
as if they are about to collapse from jade mining companies disposing
slag, residents said.

“Earlier, when these land plots were allotted by the authorities, these
landslides didn’t occur,” said Hpakant local Su Hlaing. “Before the
earthmovers disposed the mining waste around here, there were no
landslides. There were no problems for one or two years before the dumping
began.”

“[But] the land began to collapse after the trucks started dumping their
waste, because of the heavy weight of slag heaps pressing down the land
beneath them,” she said. “Since the slag heaps have piled up slowly, they
are now higher than the village itself, and one of them collapsed.”

The dumping of tailings caused a landslide in 2017 that flattened several
homes in Seik Mu village tract in Hpakant's Ward No. 6, locals said.

‘Happening all the time’

Residents said they have demanded that two companies stop dumping mining
waste near their homes and repair damage caused by landslides before the
arrival of the monsoon season.

Daung Say, administrator of Ward No. 6 where the residents live, said
local authorities have asked the mining companies to repair homes.

“We have asked the companies to repair houses damaged by the landslides,”
he said. “They said we have to prop up the houses using longer columns to
prevent a collapse.”

Hpakant authorities requested that the companies not wait until the
monsoon season arrives to do the work, Daung Say said.

“If the houses totally collapse, the companies will be responsible for
it,” he said.

RFA was unable to reach the mining companies for comment.

Residents also said they submitted a formal compliant with the township
administration office, but have not yet received a response.

“We have instructed the township administrators to have people evacuate
houses that have an immediate risk of collapse,” said Da Shi Lar Sai,
Kachin state’s minster of natural resources and environmental
conservation.

“This is happening all the time,” he said. “Not just now.”

Government has fallen short

Meanwhile, a Myanmar official said the government has fallen short when it
comes to taking action against mining companies that violate industry
regulations in Hpakant.

Myo Nyunt, spokesman for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD)
party, said the Myanmar government is responsible for those who lost their
lives in and those who are suffering from the latest disaster.

“But we have a difficult time controlling these companies because most of
them working in the Hpakant region have connections to the previous
government, and they have a lot of money,” he said.

“When we try to control these companies, we can’t do as much as we want,”
he said. “But when we have this kind of tragedy, we have to do something
to ensure accountability for the people who lost their lives,” he said.

The government has been planning to amend the law the regulates the
granting of permission to small-scale miners to work in jade mines, Myo
Nyunt said.

Than Zaw Oo, general manager of Myanmar Gems Enterprise, which organizes
emporiums and special jade and gems sales, said many accidents have
occurred in Hpakant because of shortcomings in the operations of jade
companies themselves and in government departments responsible for
controlling the companies.

“We have the Gemstone Law, but it does not cover enough,” he said. “The
Ministry [of Mines] might have its own plan [to control the companies],
but we need to follow the ministry’s instructions.”

After the law was passed in December 2018, London-based international
anti-corruption NGO Global Witness pointed to its failure to address
licensing criteria and its absence of clear guidelines and strong
enforcement mechanisms to prevent companies with histories of illegal
activities and irresponsible mining practices from obtaining new mining
licenses.

Myanmar attorney Thein Thyan Oo said mine workers do not listen to
officials who warn them about the dangers of slag heap collapses.

“Authorities would stop the daily workers from searching for jade in the
damp soil, but the workers did not listen to them because they needed
money,” he said.

“If we have to blame something, then we must blame the poverty,” he said.
“They will work in the damp soil anyway, even though they know they can
die.”

Authorities must work on plans for developing businesses to fight poverty.
Meanwhile, they need to do something to protect the workers.”

Hpakant, which lies about 400 miles (640 kilometers) north of Myanmar’s
capital Naypyidaw, is the center of country’s jade mining industry and
produces some of the highest-quality jade in the world.

Much of the gem output is exported or smuggled to neighboring China, where
demand for the precious stone is high.

Reported by Elizabeth Janmar and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung and Khet Mar. Written in English by
Roseanne Gerin.


Myanmar landslide: more than 50 jade miners feared dead in 'mudlake'

Mud filter collapsed at Hpakant in Kachin State, causing landslide that hit miners’ sleeping quarters

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

The Guadian

25 April 2019

At least 54 jade miners in Myanmar are feared to have died after they were engulfed by a landslide “mud lake” as they slept.

In one of the worst disasters to hit Myanmar’s notoriously treacherous jade mining industry, a mud filter collapsed at a mine in Hpakant in Myanmar’s Kachin State on late Monday night, causing a landslide that hit the miners’ sleeping quarters. It buried the sleeping men and 40 pieces of heavy machinery.

On Tuesday morning, a rescue operation began at the mine, which is about 30m deep. However, none of the 54 miners, most of whom were migrant workers, are thought to have survived the incident and, by Wednesday, only three bodies had been retrieved from the mud.

“They won’t survive. It is not possible because they are buried under mud,” Tin Soe, a local official, told Reuters. The two companies operating the mine were named as Shwe Nagar Koe Kaung and Myanmar Thura.

Myanmar’s shadowy jade industry, which is highly unregulated and controlled by the military and private conglomerates, has long been condemned for prioritising profit over safety, and dozens die every year in deadly landslides, particularly when monsoon season hits. Last year dozens of miners died in a landslide at another jade mine in Hpakant and statistics from 2017 showed almost 80 officially recorded deaths, though the unofficial toll is assumed to be higher.

A Global Witness report from 2014 put the value of jade production in Myanmar at about $31bn, nearly half of Myanmar’s GDP that year. However, little of the profits trickle down into the country and most of the jade is sold or smuggled into China, where the stone is in high demand.

Paul Donowitz, campaign leader for Myanmar at environmental advocacy group Global Witness described the jade industry as “corrupt to the core”, adding: “The government is incapable or unwilling to regulate the military-linked companies, cronies, drug lords, armed groups and shadowy Chinese business interests controlling the trade.

“This preventable tragedy once again underscores the urgent need to bring accountability to the country’s jade industry and to completely shut down large-scale jade mining operations which continue to kill hundreds every year, fuel violent armed conflict and devastate the local environment.”
Topics



Minister Vows ‘Action Will Be Taken’ Against Mining Firms as New Mudslide Kills Two More in Hpakant

By Aung Nyein Chan

Myanmar Now

25 April 2019

Two more mining workers have died in a second mudslide near the site where over 5o people were engulfed in a vast pool of sludge in the jade-rich region of Hpakant, a local minister has said.

The second, smaller mudslide struck Wednesday as volunteers fought treacherous conditions to recover bodies from the first disaster on Monday night, said Dashi La Seng, Kachin’s natural resources minister.

Recovery teams have now found eight bodies from the initial deluge, he told Myanmar Now.

Amid renewed anger about lax safety standards in the region’s notoriously dangerous mines, the minister vowed that “action will be taken” against some mining companies in response to the incidents.

Dozens die every year in Hpakant, where activists and others accuse mining firms of ignoring safety regulations and dumping waste materials in areas where they risk causing landslides.

Fifty-four night shift workers were believed to have been killed when a 5-acre wide, 100-foot deep pool of sludge spilled over into a mining crater late on Monday night, also engulfing dozens of vehicles and excavation machines.

The mud lake formed after a company dumped earth and sludge at an old mining site adjacent to the area where the workers are now buried, according to locals.

The site where the mud lake formed was operated by a firm called Unity Company, state media said. The site was shut down last year during the rainy season after the permit expired, a local resident told Myanmar Now.

The workers caught in the mudslide were mining the site on behalf of three companies: Myanmar Thura Gems, KNGCP, and the Shwe Nagar Koe Kaung - or Nine Golden Dragons - company.

As distraught family members waited near the site of the disaster, recovery workers said they feared finding all the bodies could prove difficult.

U Pho Htoo of the local Thingaha Free Funeral Service Association, told Myanmar Now that recovery efforts were severely hindered by the fact the sludge was up to 50 feet deep.


Search mission ended in Myanmar jade mining accident

Kyaw Ye Lynn

AA Turkey

26 April 2019

Myanmar authority has called the search and rescue mission off for scores of people who went missing after a landslide hit a major jade mining area in the country’s north, officials said on Friday.

A total of 54 staff from two private companies -- most of them were assigned to guard the nearby mining sites -- went missing late Monday when a mud-filter pond in an old mining site collapsed in Hpakant, the northern state of Kachin.

Kyaw Swa Aung, the Hpakant township director, said authorities and volunteers halted the search for the bodies on Friday after two people -- who joined the rescue team -- were killed after buried in the small scale fresh mudslide on Wednesday.

“Only four dead bodies were recovered from the mud as of Thursday,” he told Anadolu Agency by phone.

“As there are possible landslides and mudslides, search for the bodies became risky,” he said.

The official also said that hope for the remaining 50 people, who went missing since late Monday, were fading.

“As they were buried under the mud, the chance is very very low,” Aung added.

Lower House lawmaker Tint Soe, representing Hpakant, confirmed on Friday that search and rescue mission was called off.

“I have not seen anyone searching for the bodies today,” he said over phone.

Soe added that most of the dead bodies are not usually pulled out of the wreckage as the debris or mud buried all living and non-living things whenever an accident happens.

“The companies provide cash compensations to the family members. Then things are done. That’s what happens here,” he complained.

At least 20 people have been killed this year by collapses and landslides at mining sites, according to Hpakant township office.

Most of the victims were identified as internal migrant workers who scavenge jade or pieces of the precious stones left over from the mining operations of companies.

Hpakant is the center of the Myanmar’s jade mining industry and produces some of the best quality jade in the world.

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