Floods Displace Over 1,000 People in Hpakant

By Zarni Mann 25 August 2014

MANDALAY — More than 1,000 residents of Kachin State’s Hpakant Township have been displaced by flooding over the past few days in the area, known for rich jade deposits that have spawned a veritable Wild West in illegal mining activities.

The Ayemya Tharyar, Myoma and Ngatpyawdaw quarters of the town have been hardest hit, with floodwaters forcing people from their homes and into monasteries offering temporary shelter to the displaced. Locals said everything from churches to private banks had also been flooded by water and mud.

“Heavy rains are to be blame. The rain was pouring all day and night and the waters could not drain from the town fast enough,” said La Htaung, a pastor whose church has been inundated.

Local residents say the basin of the Uru River and tributary streams near the town have been filled with sedimentary runoff from jade mining operations in the area, affecting water flows and exacerbating the flooding problem.

“We’ve faced the floods since 2005 and it is getting worse each year,” said Nang Lao Seng, a local volunteer who is helping the flood victims. “If the miners continue to pile the soil like this, our town will face serious floods in future, for sure. The authorities should take serious action against this.”

Last year, more than three dozen homes were damaged due to flooding in Hpakant, a jade mining hub in Kachin State. Landslides in the area—some due to mining and others blamed on heavy rains—have killed scores of people over the last several years.

Local volunteers are helping the recent flood victims to move to shelters, as well as providing food supplies. Town authorities are reportedly attempting to unblock clogged drainage canals.

“We cannot calculate the damages yet. There are many houses in the three biggest quarters that have been flooded with mud, and the water is still pouring in,” said a duty officer from the township administrative office.

Legal mining in the area was halted in 2012, after a ceasefire between the Burmese government and ethnic Kachin rebels broke down. Since then, thousands of illegal small-scale miners have rushed to fill the void.

The government has said it plans to restart large-scale jade mining in the area next month.