Gold Mining Sending ‘Toxic Waste’ Into Shan Villages

By Thu Thu Aung 4 September 2017

YANGON — Controversial gold mines have devastated the lands and homes of hundreds of villagers in Tachileik District, eastern Shan State, according to locals and rights groups.

“The gold mines send toxic waste into the villages,” Thum Ai, a spokesperson from the Shan State Farmers’ Network, told The Irrawaddy on Monday, after recent flooding has reinvigorated local calls for action.

Rights groups say that gold mines affect vital ecosystems, as mining waste can carry mercury and cyanide, which are used to extract gold from rock. Numerous health problems have also been linked to metal mining.

District administrator U Tin Win Swe told the Irrawaddy on Monday that an investigation into the contamination was ongoing and that the results would later be submitted to the government.

Local residents have repeatedly called for gold-mining companies to take responsibility for the environmental damage they have caused.

Na Hai Long village was flooded with contaminated water on September 1 and it has yet to recede, said Nang Lar, a local Shan farmer and activist who added that she has lost 17 acres over the years due to mining activities.

“We want the government to stand up for people facing loss of land and environmental pollution,” she said, adding that people were currently having difficulty accessing areas of the village but that a township administrator had come to assess the situation.

After a decade of mining, a local creek has been contaminated, along with about 340 acres of land, according to rights groups.

Residents are hoping for compensation or relocation to areas where they can farm if mining companies will not cease operations, said Nang Lar.

According to locals, nine companies (two official and seven unofficial) currently operate gold mines in the area.

In 2014, locals complained to authorities about their damaged farmlands. In July of that year, gold mining projects were suspended by the order of the Shan State minister of mining and forestry Sai Aik Pao due to local opposition.

The companies paid each household in the village 660,000 kyats (US$488) for destroyed farms in 2014 but the ban was later overturned and mining restarted in the area the following year.

The Shan State Farmers’ Network and the Shan Human Rights Foundation released a joint statement calling for the government to halt gold mining operations in eastern Shan State’s Tachileik Township in March 2016.

Loong Sarm, a 54-year-old Na Hai Long villager, was shot dead in October 2015 for climbing a hill to monitor expanded mining operations, the SSFN/SHRF statement added.

Three soldiers admitted to shooting Loong Sarm at Tachileik Township court on Jan. 14, 2016. The result of the case is unknown, according to Nang Lar.

In Shan State, which is rich in natural resources including gold, coal, rubies and timber, there are numerous ongoing projects and operations to extract natural resources. Locals and civil society organizations have repeatedly called increased transparency, as well as for a halt to operations that damage lands and livelihoods.

U Win Myo Thu, a co-founder and managing director of the Economically Progressive Ecosystem Development Group (Ecodev), said: “The government has a responsibility to check on company implementation of environmental management plans. But there are unofficial companies operating as well, and law enforcement is an issue.”