Hpakant Landslide One of the Deadliest in Its History, Locals Say

Sunday, July 5, 2020

A total of 172 bodies have been discovered following a landslide in the Hpakant jade mining area of Kachin State that occurred on Thursday.

Heavy rains have caused difficulties for rescue workers as they try to retrieve bodies and identify survivors at the Gwi Hka jade mine.

“Rescue workers are still searching. I think 200-300 people are believed to have died in the incident,” Dashi Naw Lum, who is secretary of the Hpakant-based civil society organization Kachin National Social Development, told NMG on Friday. “More than 100 bodies were buried yesterday. Bodies that have not been identified remain unburied.”

Dashi Naw Lum said that landslides are likely to continue in Gwi Hka, posing additional risks for rescue workers.

“It’s difficult for the rescue mission because workers are searching for dead bodies in the mud. It’s so dangerous. If the rainfall continues, it will be difficult to continue the rescue mission. The hillside is not strong. It can fall at any time. So the rescue mission stops when the rain comes and the rescue mission starts again when the rain stops.”

A total of 54 people survived the landslide but were injured and are receiving treatment at either Hpakant hospital and Gwi Hka hospital.

Local Nawng Latt said that it had been raining in Hpakant for 20 days before the landslide occurred, and some of the rescue mission has been occurring on water.

“We don’t have a rescue boat, so we made a raft out of empty petroleum barrels. Some people use tubes from car tyres. We don’t have modern rescue equipment,” he explained. “Rescue workers have faced difficulties because landslides can occur again. Therefore, the rescue mission depends on the weather.”

Local civil society organizations, firefighters, religious groups, police, soldiers and locals are working together in the rescue efforts.

Locals believe that the death toll around this landslide is higher than those that occurred in 2015 and 2018.

“More dead bodies have been found than in previous incidents. A total of 111 bodies were found in last year’s landslide. A total of more than 80 bodies were found after the landslide in jade mining block of the Lon Khin Maha company. This is the highest number of deaths in Hpakant history,” Dashi Naw Lum told NMG.

Kachin State government officials and the commander of the Burma Army’s northern military command region visited the site of the landslide.

Dashi Naw Lum said that the state government, the Association of Jade Traders and private donors are preparing assistance to the families of the deceased and those who were injured.

“The Kachin State government’s officials, northern military regional commander Maj Gen Tayza Kyaw came here by helicopter today,” he said on Friday. “They pledged to provide assistance to the families of victims.”

He said that Dashi La Seng, the state’s natural resources minister, gave 50 million kyat (around US$36,000) as a donation from the Kachin State government, and the Association of Jade traders gave the same. A businessman, he said, gave 10 million kyat ($7,300).

Landslides occur frequently in Hpakant, locals say, killing hundreds of people.

There has been much public criticism of private companies’ excessive extraction of jade in Hpakant, and of successive governments’ failures to draw up and enforce laws and regulations regarding mining, or to take action against illegal mining.