Search Ends for Victims of Hpakant Jade Mining Landslide
By Min Khi Thein & Esther Htusan 25 November 2015
HPAKANT, Kachin State — Police in northern Burma said Wednesday they have ended efforts to find bodies in a jade mining landslide that killed more than 100 people and highlighted the perilous conditions created by a breakneck effort to dig up the world’s richest deposits of the green gem.
Separately, the government of Kachin State has offered compensation of 600,000 kyats (US$550) to families of identified victims. The desultory sum reflects the limited resources of a state that is largely locked out of a mining bonanza worth billions.
The collapse early Saturday of a 200-foot mountain of dirt and debris created by industrial jade mining in Hpakant Township enveloped 70 makeshift huts and killed at least 113 people. Officials have said as many as 100 people are still missing. Many of the dead were itinerant jade pickers and their families who made a living scavenging for scraps of jade in the debris left behind by mining companies.
Hpakant police officer Naing Win said search operations ended on Wednesday morning.
The landslide was the area’s worst such disaster in recent memory, but dozens of other people have been killed or maimed in the past year. In January, a landslide of unstable waste earth killed at least 30 jade pickers.
The jade industry centered on Hpakant was worth more than $30 billion last year, according to an estimate by Global Witness, a group that investigates misuse of resource wealth. But there is so little investment in the region that vehicles on the main road between Hpakant and the state capital need elephants to rescue them from the mud. Researchers believe the dark green rocks that can be the size of giant boulders are enriching individuals and companies tied to Burma’s former military rulers.
Lajun Ngan Seng, a Kachin State minister, on Tuesday said the families of 72 identified victims are being offered compensation.
Naing Win, the police officer, said an association of the dozens of jade mining companies in Hpakant could decide further compensation. So far there has been no offer of compensation from Triple One and Yadana Yaung Chi, two mining companies that police say contributed in large part to the waste mountain.
The death toll of 113 has been unchanged since Monday despite earthmoving machines being used in the search.
Zaw Zaw Aung, 29, said he has been searching for his parents for four days, but has only found traces of what was their home.
They ran a karaoke parlor in their home that was part of the community of huts obliterated by the landslide. They were at home when the landslide occurred. Four other family members were away.
“I still can’t believe what happened to my parents,” he said. “I feel so bad. All I am seeing right now is like a nightmare for me. I cannot deal with it.”
San Yin, 33, said she came to Hpakant three years ago from Arakan State hundreds of miles away. She said she has always been fearful of such a disaster and tried to pick a safe spot to live. Eight months’ pregnant, she fears that no place will offer her security.
“Of course, I was scared to live here and I was scared even more when I was told that everywhere here is very dangerous,” she said. “But where else can we live? This is the only place where we can stay.”