Latest Landslide in Hpakant Leaves About a Dozen Dead, Locals Say

By Nyein Nyein 7 January 2016

RANGOON — About a dozen people are believed to have died after the latest in a sequence of landslides in Hpakant, the heart of Kachin State’s jade mining territory.

Debris swept the sides of yet another waste mound early Thursday morning, burying an estimated 10 to 15 people near the Lon Khin Alae mining camp. A smaller incident went unreported on Tuesday, killing at least two.

Locals told the district MP-elect, Tint Soe of the National League for Democracy, that the earth began to move just after midnight, and that many who lived in the nearby camp were unaware of the danger.

“I just returned from the Alae camp, located west of Lon Khin [village], where the waste is dumped from the Nay Min Kaba mining company,” Tint Soe told The Irrawaddy. “It is normal for residents here, we hear about the deaths of hand-pickers almost every day.”

Thursday’s landslide follows two major disasters late last year that left more than 100 dead The incidents shed light on the dangers of Burma’s shady jade mining industry, which draws impoverished prospectors from across the country.

Many make their living sifting through mining waste in search of discarded stones, camping out near precarious mounds of rubble to await the next dump truck. The rash of landslides was followed shortly by a government inquiry into illegally imported vehicles used to transport waste.

Protests have been held in the area since late last year, demanding an end to the use of large dump trucks to create mountains of refuse that are likely to give way.

Public outrage after the deadliest incident in November prompted local authorities, representatives of mining firms and village elders to conduct regular safety inspections, though reports of small-scale landslides are still regular.

Burma’s Ministry of Mines has designated areas for dumping waste, but some villagers claim that soil is being deposited in other areas where it endangers local populations, damages the environment and contaminates clean water.

Shwe Thein of Seik Mu village said several tributaries of the Uru River, which flows through Hpakant, Lon Khin and other surrounding village tracts, have been destroyed by mining waste, which pollutes the water and blocks its passage to villages further downstream.

Disruptions in the water flow cause other problems such as severe flooding in some areas, and water shortages in others.

Shwe Thein said villagers had been told that the regional government was preparing to collaborate with mining firms to build water barriers to prevent abnormal flows before the start of the next monsoon season.

Such precautions have been tested in the past, he said, but will need to be further fortified to safeguard against record amounts of waste in the area.