Mining, Plantations Affect Livelihoods of Kachin Villagers, NGO Says

By Lawi Weng 28 May 2013

RANGOON—Unregulated gold mining, agro-industrial farming and hydropower development in Kachin State is affecting thousands of villagers, who are suffering from environmental destruction and a loss of farmland, a Kachin rights group warned.

Mungchying Rawt Jat (People’s Foundation for Development), a NGO based in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina, launched a report in Rangoon on Monday that documented ten cases in which local villagers lost their land and livelihoods to large-scale investment projects and rampant gold mining.

The group said that in recent years about 3,500 people had been forcibly evicted to make way for the suspended Myistone hydropower dam and for for the Yuzana Corporation’s massive cassava and sugarcane plantations in the remote Hukaung (also Hukawng) Valley.

Since 2006, Yuzana, with the cooperation of local authorities, has been granted 81,000 hectares (200,000 acres) of land in the region. Much of it was reportedly confiscated from hundreds of Kachin families, while the firm allegedly also cleared large parts of a tiger reserve in the valley.

Htay Myint, the owner of Yuzana Company, is one of Burma’s most powerful tycoons as well as an MP from the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Pollution caused by Yuzana’s cassava-processing plants and the chemical run-off from the rampant small-scale gold mining in the valley has also affected the health of local communities and their animals, according to the NGO.

“They processed cassava at their factory and the remaining waste they threw into the river, which is located near to the factory. We found that the water turned black and fish in the river died,” the report quoted a villager, who claimed that locals got skin ailments after bathing in the polluted water.

“We are worried about the effect on the population… and on our livelihoods,” the villager told the Mungchying Rawt Jat (People’s Foundation for Development). The NGO also claimed that 74 farm animals in the Hukaung Valley had died after drinking polluted water.

Ja Hkawn, an activist who helped draft the report, said local authorities and parliamentarians from Kachin State were turning a blind eye to such social and environmental impacts. “We found there were MPs involved these businesses. It is better to talk at Parliament in Naypyidaw in order to stop this project,” she said.

The massive Myitsone dam, which is being funded by China Power Investment Co. (CPI) and the Burmese firm Asia World Company, was suspended by President Thein Sein in 2011.

Prior to this decision, about 2,600 people were forcibly evicted to make way for the project, which would dam the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River and flood 766 square kilometers of farmland and forest. In recent years, the villagers were relocated to two sites, Aung Myin Tha and Mali Yan, where CPI constructed homes and community buildings for them.

Mungchying Rawt Jat said living conditions at the sites were poor and during a press conference in Rangoon on Monday some evicted villagers complained about life at the newly created communities.

“We can’t find work there, and we could not grow food or vegetables to earn money as the area is very rocky,” said La Seng, who was resettled at Aung Myin. “We are on edge of crisis. We do not have enough food and no job.”