Mining Companies Found to Be Polluting in Sagaing

By Moe Myint 27 April 2016

RANGOON — Seven coal mining firms in Kalaywa, Sagaing Division, are operating without any regard for the environmental impact of their projects, according to a report released Wednesday by a joint task force made up of environmental NGOs, civil society organizations and the Ministry of Mines.

The firms that failed to conduct and follow the guidelines of environmental and social impact assessments have polluted the ground surrounding their mines, according to Kyaw Thet, a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Mines in Naypyidaw. He said the pollution was not as bad as it could have been, however, because the sites were not near water sources.

Of the nine companies the joint commission investigated, only two—Htoo Group and Max Myanmar, both crony-run conglomerates—were found to have followed environmental guidelines.

This is the first time the ministry has cooperated with NGOs and local organizations to research the private sector’s environmental impacts.

“We have a lot more to do, but now is not a good time to reveal the nature of our future work,” the mining official said. His ministry and its responsibilities are set to be subsumed by another under a plan by the new government to consolidate the bureaucracy, in part by reducing the number of Union-level ministries from 36 to 21.

“The findings of the report are not surprising because even big firms like Htoo and Max are unable to meet international standards at this time,” said Win Myo Thu, a member of the joint commission and director of the Economically Progressive Ecosystem Development Group (EcoDev). “The joint committee did not use the most rigorous evaluation methodology because it is still in the initial phase of learning how to carry out proper oversight.”

The issue of government mismanagement also concerns Win Myo Thu, who pointed out that even though the Ministry of Mines has blocked small- and medium-sized mining projects, they still often receive approval from local governments.

This may account for the discrepancy between the government’s and EcoDev’s count of mining projects around the country.

The ministry officially accounts for 1,800 mines. However, EcoDev’s satellite analysis, also released Wednesday, shows that there are at least 2,340 mines operating in Burma, and there are potentially over 570 more sites that the environmental NGO’s analysis could not confirm due to their potential location underground or underwater.

Correction (5.2.2016): The information regarding Htoo and Max Myanmar has been corrected. The two firms are run by government-linked cronies. It was originally erroneously reported that they were related to cronies.