Locals of Hkamti District in northern Sagaing Division have pressed for a stop to gold mining along the Chindwin River, stating that their livelihoods have been affected by large-scale gold mining that has damaged farmlands.
There are as many as 100 companies mining gold along the river, and their actions have posed a threat to the livelihoods and security of more than 8,000 people in 12 villages, locals said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“Some farmlands are no longer able to be cultivated. The yield has decreased by two-thirds on others because of silt in the water. The creek, well and lake water has been contaminated from the gold digging,” said Sai Sam Twain, one of the leaders of the Shanni Youth Network in the village of Maung Kham, one of 12 villages affected by gold mining.
Gold mining with the use of machinery has significantly increased along the Uru Creek and Chindwin River since 2010. Locals said the Uru Creek, which flows through the villages, is full of silt.
“Companies have to seek permission from the government to mine gold. Usually, they will conduct a feasibility study while waiting for official approval. But now, they don’t wait for approval, they just start digging after submitting an application. They have already finished digging before they are even granted permission. The government loses possible tax revenue and locals don’t receive any benefit,” said Sai Sam Twain.
Companies usually dig for gold in one place for three months at most, according to locals.
Locals also claimed that more than 3,000 acres of farmland in Hkamti District were no longer workable and that gold mining companies have purchased damaged farmland, banana and bamboo plantations at rock-bottom prices.
Local Daw Bwainu said that women feel unsafe in the area because of the internal migrants working at the sites.
“We used to pick tea leaves and search for herbal plants in the forest. Now, we are afraid of sexual harassment from the migrant workers after a few rape cases occurred. We don’t even go into the forest alone in the daytime, which has cut our regular income,” said Daw Bwainu.
Locals also claimed that gold mining companies have cut down perennial trees in the forest, contributing to deforestation.
On Tuesday, locals demanded the unconditional discontinuation of gold mining, the restoration of farmland, compensation for losses, public recommendations for any new projects and a reorganization of the civil society groups working along the Chindwin River.