Closing Old Jade Mining Blocks Will Reduce Landslides In Hpakant

By Network Media Group
Friday, July 10, 2020

Following the horrific accident last week at the Hpakant jade mines, environmentalists and residents of Hpakant Township want operations in old mining blocks stopped to reduce the risks associated with landslides in Burma’s Kachin State.

Ko Tsa Ji, from Kachin Development Network Group (KDNG), says the landslide on July 2, was a “man-made disaster.” “Administrative officials did not give orders to stop it. That’s why people continued to extract from there.” Even though it was an “accident,” it wasn’t the first time this kind of thing happened, he says. Landslides are frequent in the Hpakant jade mines, Ko Tsa Ji explained, and even if the old mining blocks are shut down they will still happen.

Jade was extracted using hand tools before the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a ceasefire with the government in 1994. Later, a number of large jade mining companies moved into Hpakant.

Nawng Latt, with the Greenland environmental group, said the large companies use heavy machinery, working around the clock. Excessive extraction caused massive erosion and landslides. “After 2000, the situation worsened when many joint-ventures started extracting jade from the Hpakant jade mines,” he says, explaining there were no environmental regulations, causing widespread degradation. This has had a negative impact on forests, rivers and, in turn, the rotating farms.

“Many people die every year from landslides,” says Nawng Latt.

During last week’s landslide at Gwi Hka jade mine, 174 people died, while 54 people were injured and 20 are still missing.

Between 2015 and 2020, it’s estimated about 1,000 have perished from landslides in jade mines in northwestern Burma.

Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA) criticized the government for not learning from past accidents, which it says could have prevented the recent incident that set a record for fatalities during a landslide in Hpakant.

MATA says the “government doesn’t have a policy for natural resources extraction” and jade mines are controlled by a handful of elite groups. Further, the government has not been honest about socioeconomic injustices, calling into question the “government’s desire to make effective changes” in Hpakant.

Kachin National Congress President Dr M. Kawn La accused the government of delaying gem-by-law, which led to over-extraction and consequently, many deaths in Hpakant that could otherwise have been prevented.

“The natural environment has been damaged and it has caused landslides and deaths. To control this, the government can take legal action, but there is no gem-by-law,” he says. After the election, “Parliament must review the gem law and complete gem-by-law.”

“We have to protect our natural resources. Mining laws must be amended. And changes need to be made to forestry and taxation laws. Hpakant’s land management law needs to be reviewed,” says Dr M. Kawn La. If these laws are amended, he says landslides in Hpakant can be prevented.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) called for federalism that would give the states control over their own natural resources. As long as the government allows for mega-projects, these kinds of tragedies will happen in the Hpakant jade mines, the CSOs say.