Blast Mining Threatens to Destroy Hpakant Villages: Locals

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 22 April 2016

HPAKANT, Kachin State — Two villages near the town of Hpakant in Kachin State are at risk of dangerous shifts in the terrain due to jade mining and require immediate evacuation, according to local residents interviewed over the last week.

Explosions due to blast mining in the jade-rich region have disrupted the livelihoods and threatened the safety of the villagers, local residents told The Irrawaddy.

“They [the mining companies] are mining right in the middle of the mountain ridge. So the mountain could collapse at any time. They are using backhoes and explosive mines. If they want to continue with [the mining], they need to move us to a safe place,” said Than Zaw, a resident of Saijabum, one of the two villages in danger.

Ten jade mining companies are detonating explosives every day, shaking the ground, damaging houses and opening fissures in the streets, according to the villagers.

Saijabum villagers reported that items placed on shelves and desks had fallen down and broken when the powerful explosives were used at the mines, and now they have asked the village administrator to help them relocate.

Thala Sai, the village administrator, told The Irrawaddy that he had no authority to move the village and that the decision was up to higher-level authorities and the mining companies operating in the area.

“The jolts caused by the mining have stopped my chickens from hatching, and even worse, my daughter-in-law had a miscarriage because of the sounds of the explosions,” said Ywe Ja, a Saijabum resident. “We live in a state of panic every day.”

Villagers staged a demonstration on April 4, demanding a reduction in the use of heavy machinery and powerful explosives. The village administrator, however, cut the demonstration short, the locals said.

Meanwhile, residents of Thayargon, the other village under threat, said they had already moved twice due to jade mining. And with jade companies now mining in areas surrounding their new village, they have lost much of their land.

“They have drilled in the village area, which is outside of their official mining zone, and now we have lost almost 200 acres of land. Our creek was also clogged with the miners’ waste products,” said Dai Khaung, the vicar of Thayargon village.

There are around 70 households in the village of Saijabum, which has a population of over 200 people, and Thayargon is home to 207 families totaling about 2,350 people.

The mining companies have been tapping into jade deposits adjacent to the two villages, causing rainwater to leak into the villages’ foundations and putting them at imminent risk of collapse, according to Kai Ra, a spokesperson for the Kachin National Organization.

“They are in danger now, but the companies have refused to take responsibility for moving the villages. They said they would give compensation in case a landslide happens. Do the locals have to wait until that happens?” said Kai Ra.

Residents of the two villages want to move before the rainy season, which usually starts in the third or fourth week of May.

The companies mining around Saijabum are owned by the conglomerate Shwepyitha and several of its subsidiaries, whereas operations around Thayargon are primarily owned by a firm in the family of former strongman Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

Private companies were given permission to engage in mining in 2007, and since then more than 850 licenses have been issued allowing firms to operate mines at over 8,000 sites.

Dangerous conditions at jade mining sites in Hpakant have been highlighted for months by several deadly landslides over the last year that have killed scores of people.