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Rescue operation under way at a landslide in Myanmar's Kachin State on July 2, 2020. Rescue operation under way at a landslide in Myanmar's Kachin State on July 2, 2020.   (ANSA)

Landslide at Myanmar jade mine kills more than 120 people

At least 123 people have been killed in a landslide in a jade mine in northern Myanmar, Thursday morning.

By Vatican News

The landslide in the Hpakant area of Kachin State is the worst in a series of deadly accidents at such sites in recent years.

A statement from the Ministry of Information said 123 bodies had been recovered from the site, while the Myanmar Fire Service Department, which coordinates rescue and other emergency services, put the total at 126. 

Toll could be higher

Maung Myint, a lawmaker from Hpakant earlier said 113 bodies were recovered and 54 injured sent to hospitals.  He fears the toll could be nearly twice as high. 

Footage of the tragedy on social media showed a massive pile of mine waste sliding down a slope and smashing into a lake below, sending the water and mud surging high around its rim and down the valley.  

Emergency workers had to slog through heavy mud under rain to retrieve bodies by wrapping them in plastic sheets, which served as makeshift body bags.  

Myanmar’s jade industry world’s biggest

Hpakant area, which is 950 kilometers north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, is the centre of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry. Myanmar is the world biggest source of jade, an industry reportedly worth more than $30 billion.

Victims - residue scavengers

Accidents at such mining sites causing multiple casualties are not rare. The victims are normally freelance miners who settle near giant mounds of discarded earth that have been mined in bulk by heavy machinery. The freelance miners who scavenge for bits of stray jade usually work and live at the base of the mounds of earth, which become particularly unstable during the rainy season.

More than 100 people were reported killed at Myanmar’s mining sites last year.  A November 2015 accident at a jade mine in Kachin also left 113 dead and was considered the country’s worst.

Most scavengers are unregistered migrants from other areas, making it hard to determine exactly how many people are actually missing after such accidents and in many cases leaving the relatives of the dead in their home villages unaware of their fate.

Profiting only a few

Local activists have complained that the profitability of jade mining has led businesses and the government to neglect enforcing already very weak regulations in the industry.

According to Global Witness, a London-based group that investigates misuse of revenues from natural resources, the industry generated about $31 billion in 2014, with most of the wealth going to individuals and companies tied to Myanmar’s former military rulers.

Mining also plays a role in the decades-old struggle of ethnic minority groups in Myanmar’s borderlands to take more control of their own destiny and resources. Kachin insurgents have been engaged in intermittent combat with government troops.

The area where members of the Kachin minority are dominant is poverty stricken despite having huge deposits of rubies as well as jade.  The Kachin people believe they are not getting a fair share of the profits from deals that the central government makes with mining companies that critics charge are cronies of the military - a major player in the country’s administration.

02 July 2020, 14:15