Authorities Order Miners to Move as Death Toll Rises from Hpakant Landslide

By Nyein Nyein 24 November 2015

Local authorities have told small-scale miners living near the site of a deadly landslide at a jade mine in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township to move immediately, as the official death toll from Saturday’s disaster continues to rise.

Around 200 people from approximately 80 households were believed to be residing in a mining encampment that was buried when a man-made mountain of earthen waste collapsed near a mine in the jade-rich region on Saturday morning.

Around 200 more small-scale miners, mostly internal migrants who sift through piles of waste soil by hand in the hope of striking the highly sought gem, reportedly live in an encampment near the site of the landslide.

Local hand-pickers told Upper House MP-elect Khin Maung Myint on Tuesday they had been instructed to move from the area within three days.

“They told me that soldiers told them on Monday to move from their huts within the next three days,” he said, adding that they were informed their dwellings would be destroyed.

Kyaw Htin, a police officer in Hpakant, confirmed the authorities wanted the residents “to move as soon as possible” as there was a danger of further landslides.

“They do not see the danger but we want them to move immediately. The sooner the better,” Kyaw Htin told The Irrawaddy. “There are about 70 huts with over 200 people. They can easily move as they live in temporary makeshift huts.”

The police officer added that some people had expressed opposition to the move.

“We have provided a place which is about 1,000 feet from there. They just think of getting the precious stones when living near the dump soil piles, but they don’t see they are risking their lives,” he said.

According to Khin Maung Myint, who was elected to Kachin State constituency No. 9 for the National League for Democracy in the recent general election, nine bodies were recovered on Monday and another body on Tuesday morning, bringing the death toll to 114, with dozens more unaccounted for.

Khin Maung Myint said the grim search for bodies was being aided by over twenty diggers, or excavators, supplied by local mining companies.

Kachin State’s chief minister La Jon Ngan Hsai is currently visiting the site and meeting with victims’ families, whom the government plans to support, according to the state chief’s spokesperson.

Around half of the victims recovered cannot yet be identified, according to a local free funeral service, but authorities are collecting fingerprints to aid the identification process.

In light of Saturday’s disaster, the most deadly of five such incidents this year, local activists in Hpakant are urging large mining companies to reconsider their operations, which have led to serious environmental degradation and the loss of lives.

The NLD alluded to plans to tighten regulations at jade mines on Tuesday, with senior member Nyan Win telling Reuters the party would “review the existing regulations and if necessary will require the companies to have safe and adequate dump sites when they apply for licenses.”

Nang Lwin Hnin Pwint contributed reporting.