Scores killed in jade mine land­slide: of­fi­cials

Mizzima Business Weekly - - AFFAIRS // NEWS -

At least 104 peo­ple have died in a huge land­slide in a re­mote jade min­ing area of north­ern Myan­mar, of­fi­cials said Novem­ber 22, as search teams con­tin­ued to find bod­ies in one of the dead­li­est dis­as­ters to strike the coun­try’s shad­owy jade in­dus­try.

Those killed were thought to have been scav­eng­ing through a moun­tain of waste rub­ble dumped by me­chan­i­cal dig­gers used by min­ing firms in the area to ex­tract Myan­mar’s most valu­able pre­cious stone.

The mas­sive land­slide crushed dozens of flimsy shanty huts clus­tered on the bar­ren land­scape, where an un­known num­ber of itin­er­ant work­ers had made their homes in the hope of find­ing riches on the side of the se­cre­tive multi-bil­lion dol­lar jade in­dus­try in war-torn Kachin state.

“We found 79 dead bod­ies on Novem­ber 21 (and) 11 to­day so the to­tal so far is 90,” said Ni­lar Myint an of­fi­cial from the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tive au­thor­i­ties in Hpakant, north­ern Kachin, adding that the res­cue op­er­a­tion was on­go­ing.

“We are see­ing only dead bod­ies and no one knows how many peo­ple live there,” he told (AFP), adding that only one per­son had been pulled alive from the rub­ble, but had died soon af­ter.

Myan­mar is the source of virtu- ally all of the world’s finest jadeite, an al­most translu­cent green stone that is prized above al­most all other ma­te­ri­als in neigh­bour­ing China.

Land­slides are a com­mon haz­ard in the area as peo­ple liv­ing off the in­dus­try’s waste pick their way across per­ilous mounds un­der cover of dark­ness, driven by the hope that they might find a chunk of jade worth thou­sands of dol­lars.

Scores have been killed this year alone as lo­cal peo­ple say the min­ing firms, many of which are linked to the coun­try’s junta-era mil­i­tary elite, scale up their oper­a­tions in Kachin.

- ‘Dystopian waste­land’ –

Ni­lar Myint said res­cuers work­ers from the Myan­mar Red Cross, the army, po­lice and lo­cal com­mu­nity groups were all at the scene try­ing to dig peo­ple out of the earth, but their ef­forts have been ham­pered by poor weather con­di­tions overnight in the re­mote re­gion.

In an Oc­to­ber re­port, ad­vo­cacy group Global Wit­ness es­ti­mated that the value of jade pro­duced in 2014 alone was $31 bil­lion, the equiv­a­lent of nearly half the coun­try’s GDP.

But that fig­ure is around 10 times the of­fi­cial $3.4 bil­lion sales of the pre­cious stone last year, in an in­dus­try that has long been shroud- ed in se­crecy with much of the best jade thought to be smug­gled di­rectly to China.

Lo­cal peo­ple in Hpakant com­plain of a litany of abuses as­so­ci­ated with the min­ing in­dus­try, in­clud­ing the fre­quency of ac­ci­dents and land con­fis­ca­tions.

The area has been turned into a moon­scape of en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion as huge dig­gers gouge the earth look­ing for jade.

Itin­er­ant min­ers are drawn from all parts of Myan­mar by the prom­ise of riches and be­come easy prey for drug ad­dic­tion in Hpakant, where heroin and metham­phetamine are cheaply avail­able on the streets.

“In­dus­trial-scale min­ing by big com­pa­nies con­trolled by mil­i­tary fam­i­lies and com­pa­nies, cronies and drug lords has made Hpakant a dystopian waste­land where lo­cals are lit­er­ally hav­ing the ground cut from un­der their feet,” said Mike Davis of Global Wit­ness, call­ing for firms to be held ac­count­able for ac­ci­dents.

The group wants the jade in­dus­try, which has long been the sub­ject of United States sanc­tions, to be part of the Ex­trac­tive In­dus­tries Trans­parency Ini­tia­tive (EITI), a global scheme de­signed to in­crease trans­parency around nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment.


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