YANGON, Myanmar – A landslide of mining waste killed at least six people in the sixth deadly such accident in northern Myanmar’s jade mining region since a November disaster left more than 100 dead.
Hpakant Baptist Church deacon Dut La, who is organizing funerals for the victims, said six bodies were in the morgue but more than a dozen may still lie under the waste from the slide that occurred Monday afternoon in Kachin state’s Hpakant mining region.
“We are going to bury them today. Some family members showed up but some didn’t and we cannot wait for them anymore,” Dut La said Wednesday. “There are a dozen more possibly buried under the debris but it’s quite difficult to take the bodies out because it’s too dangerous.”
Hpakant, 950 kilometres (600 miles) northeast of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, is the epicenter of the lucrative jade mining industry. Jade is mined with heavy equipment that leaves behind small pieces in the waste soil that is piled into huge mounds. At risk when landslides occur are usually people who settle near the mounds to scavenge through precariously high piles.
Myanmar’s jade industry generated about $31 billion last year with most of the wealth going to individuals and companies tied to the Myanmar’s former military rulers, according to Global Witness, a group that investigate misuse of resource revenues. The opportunity to find and sell bits of discarded jade has attracted poor people from all over the country.
Such accidents usually occur on a small-scale that does not get much attention, and are often dismissed as a result of bad weather.
“These kinds of incidents are happening a lot because the mining companies are not systematic about disposing of the waste earth after digging out the jade,” said Nilar Myint, assistant director of the local Township Administration Office. “The mining companies are very much responsible for this case. They pile the waste earth too high, like another mountain. ”
She said effective action should be taken against mining companies that do not follow guidelines.
Myanmar’s state media had reported at least three deaths in Monday’s accident in in Panghkam Bum village. Kyaw Soe, a police officer of nearby Lonekhin village told The Associated Press that about 100 scavengers had settled by the waste pile, which was more than 100 feet (30 metres) high and 150 feet (46 metres) wide.
Khin Maung Chit, a local member of the National League for Democracy party, said his group’s investigation had seen four of the settlers’ huts buried by the landslide, and that more than a dozen people may have been killed, but they were still trying to determine exactly how many had died.