Chinese-Backed Nickel Mining Project Draws Concerns in Chin State

Myanmar, Burma, Chin, Chin State, Chinland, Nickel, mining, Chinese, China, investment,

A local resident reads posters put up by a Chinese mining company giving information about a planned nickel-mining project in Chin State’s Tedim Township. (Photo: Chinland Natural Resources Watch Group)

TEDIM TOWNSHIP, Chin State — A planned nickel-mining project in the mountains of Burma’s poorest state is causing concern among locals worried about its environmental impact.

Activists and people living in the area in Chin State’s Tedim Township say the Chinese-owned North Mining Investment Company, which began conducting surveys for the project in 2012, is not giving concrete information about the impacts mining would have.

“The company just said that the mountain and the environment will not be harmed due to the mining process,” Cin Tang, a local village chief, told The Irrawaddy.

“On the other hand, they said they will use an open cut mining method, and will dig 45 meters deep. How can they say the environment will not be harmed in the region if they will dig and produce many tons of rocks and stones over years?”

According to Burma’s Ministry of Mining, a preliminary survey for the nickel mining project on an area covering Mwe Mountain and Phar Mountain was completed December 2012, and construction on two purifying factories is scheduled to start in early 2014.

Representatives of North Mining Investment have reportedly visited more than 15 villages and met with the locals to explain the project. Hand-outs and posters distributed by the mining company make grand claims for the benefits of the project to the local area, and play down any potential downsides.

The posters also say that the $486.7 million project will produce purified nickel and iron, and will contribute US$500,000 a year to the development of Chin State, and bring jobs to the area, once it is up and running.

Electricity produced that exceeds the needs of the project will be distributed for free for a year to people living within 5 kilometers of the project.

They claim the process of purifying the nickel will not use chemicals or acid.

While omitting mention of any negative impacts, the materials say the company’s factories will use about 530,000 tons of coal per year for heating and to produce electricity. And in order to filter sulphur dioxide, it will use about 50,000 tons of limestone, the literature says.

The company also says it will build a dock at Kalaywa on the Chindwin River in Sagaing Division. The mine will produce ferronickel concentrates, which will be transported to the port, and shipped, via the Irrawaddy River, to Rangoon and then to China, the company says.

Despite the public relations efforts, locals are concerned they will face the same problems as the residents affected by the controversial Chinese-backed copper mining project at Letpadaung in central Burma. That project was recently restarted, with more favorable terms for the Burmese government, after public outrage and protests led to its suspension.

“They [North Mining Investment] said the first contract of project is just for seven years and six months. After that, the region will get everything that is left from the project. But who knows, maybe this Mwe Mountain will disappear, just as Sabae and Kyaesin mountains did at the Letpadaung copper mine,” said Cin Tang.

“I can’t imagine how much the air, water and our land will be polluted. They said our villages will not be displaced, but if the forest is destroyed and if our lands are polluted, we will have to find a new place on our own. Then there is no difference between this and being forcibly displaced.”

No clear-cut guarantees have been made by the company or the local government about environmental conservation efforts.

“The company repeatedly just says how much and what kind of help it will give to the region, and how their project will develop the region,” said Har Tuang, a member of Chinland Natural Resources Watch Group. “But they have failed to give a guarantee on how they will deal with the pollution, which would affect the economic, health and social life of the region.”

Locals and activists filed complaints to the Chin State government in 2013, urging it not to allow mining in the area.

“The state government said that they do not have the power to decide on this matter, only the Union government has,” said Zam Thuam, also a member of Chinland Natural Resources Watch Group.

The group has submitted a complaint to Naypyidaw after meeting with the state government in end of 2013 to review the project.

Meanwhile, the illegal trading of stone from Mwe Mountain and Phar Mountain has fueled a popular market in Kalay Myo, upper Sagaing Division, since mid-2013 as some Chinese traders have already begun moving into the area.

“Actually, the state government must handle such illegal trade. We can only educate the locals but we also do not want them to be arrested for unlawful acts. But this is just for their living, so we have nothing to say about this. It is like the state government is creating misunderstanding between the locals and the activists,” said Liantuang, another member of Chinland Natural Resources Watch Group.

About 1.5kg of stone is priced from 2,000 Kyats to 4,000 kyats ($2-$4) and is reportedly traded through Shan State and across the Sino-Burmese border.

“If the project is for the development of the country, we have no reason to oppose. But we see nothing concerning the development of our country or the region in this project,” Liantuang said.

“That’s why we don’t want this mining project. We don’t want the nature to be spoiled. We don’t want our people to suffer. We don’t want our region to be harmed. We want the responsible authorities to review this project.”

Apart from the environmental matters, locals, who are ethnic Chin, also worry about people of different cultures flooding into the region.

“There’s no one here who will be qualified to do the proposed work on the project. So, they will hire foreign laborers and many other people from outside,” said a chief of Zonumzam village.

“We are just afraid that our unspoiled culture will be affected and ruined by strangers who do not value it.”

3 Responses to Chinese-Backed Nickel Mining Project Draws Concerns in Chin State

  1. The Chin people do not welcome the Chinese, any kind of Chinese. Especially, Communist Chinese are not welcomed in Chin State. Supporters of military dictatorship have no business in Chin State. Even though the Chins are poor, they do not want to be rich because of Chinese people. They just want to enjoy their own life peacefully without Chinese and USDP idiots.

  2. Every Mining operations have largely negative effects on the environment. However, important thing is regulations for mining industry in Chin state and else where in Burma. Government officials may be corrupted in Burma but environmentalists can scrutiny the Company if it was suspected breaking the regulations. Also Burmese peoples shouldn’t prejudice the Company because of Company was coming from Communist China. Also I hope Chinese Company will respect Burma’s regulations and Burma’s environment because China will affect it climate and environment if Burma’s environment was damaged as we are neighbor. Burmese Government and Mining Company must help local peoples with building Road, Hospital and School as return for mining in their land.

  3. There is a question of how do they transport coal from Thit Chauk,Kalawa to the mine.Total tonnage of coal for 7-year -mine life would be 3.5 million tons of coal to be burnt.Hauling coal by dump trucks would cause the passing area polluted.
    Another one is the storage of the slurry..waste water from seperation process.The Chin State Government has to oversee their operation on storage of slurry with caution.Otherwise it will polluted the nearby creeks or streams.
    Next problem is the storage of products of smelters.The slags should be well sealed off.
    The smokestacks from coal fired power plant and the smelters will emitted fine particles which will spread all the forests nearby.
    In my opinion ,giving US 0.5 million dollars for the state development is too cheap comparing the initial investment.The mineral rights for Chin majority should be also considered.The nickel price stays around US$ 14000 per ton ,we will be never known how much they make profit.
    I feel relief the short minelife.I had witnessed the situations in Bawdwin Mine and the Namtu in Shan State.The black river crossing in the middle of the mining town,Bawdwin is too dirty with lead poisoning.No fish in the river.Namtu is polluted with slags and covered with smokes from huge smokestack of the giant smelter.Those mine and smelter have been opereating for over 50 years.
    This new nickel mine’s environmental impact statement is just a few seems they dont think seriously .It would be a sad thing.

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