Many Feared Dead After Jade Waste Heap Collapses in Myan-mar’s Jade Town
By The Irrawaddy 22 December 2021
Scores of people are missing in Hpakant, Kachin State’s jade-mining town, after a huge slag heap collapsed on Wednesday morning, according to residents.
“The mound collapsed at around 4am at a mine. It was near a lake to flush out gold and valuable stones in the rainy season. People living near the mound were buried,” a Hpakant resident told The Irrawaddy.
There is no estimate of the numbers missing, who are mostly jade scavengers. Residents said it will be difficult to recover the bodies as the waste collapsed into the lake.
On Sunday at least 10 prospectors were buried in a jade mine landslide. Only three bodies have been recovered.
In 2016, the National League for Democracy government said it would not renew jade-mining licenses until it completed an environmental management plan for the area. Almost all the jade mining licenses expired in 2018 and none have been officially renewed.
But many companies pay bribes and continue mining, said residents.
“They are still mining as they have an understanding with the authorities. But there is no more large-scale mining with hundreds of trucks and heavy machinery like before. They are now mining at night,” said another resident.
Scavengers converge on the mines when the companies are operating, increasing the risks of fatalities in the case of a landslide.
“Some scavengers have returned. Those who stay search for stones at night as companies only work at night. As the waste is searched several times before being dumped, it is difficult to find any stones. Scavengers struggle to survive,” said a resident.
The wife of a scavenger who went missing in Sunday’s landslide said: “We have been making a living by scavenging stones for a long time. My husband is around 40. We have three children. His body is still not recovered.”
There were landslides in previous months in which at least three scavengers died.
The regime has cut mobile internet in Hpakant where residents have staged daily protests since the February coup. Before the regime resorted to violence, protests in Hpakant usually involved hundreds of people.
The junta-controlled jade-mining department and the military’s Division 33 called on Dec. 4 for all jade mines to cease operations amid reports that mining companies were bribing the battalion in Hpakant to continue to extract.
Hpakant, where up to 90 percent of the world’s jade is mined, has around 200,000 residents from across Myanmar. The area has seen hundreds of deaths in landslides.
The deadliest accident took place last year when between 150 and 200 people were believed to be buried at a Hpakant mine.
The junta-controlled Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Ministry has ordered all mining to end on Oct. 7.
The parallel civilian National Unity Government has also called for a suspension of mining.
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