Six jade scavengers died when a 150-foot cliff wall collapsed midday Sunday at a jade mine in Hpakant township of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, a mining area where hundreds of lives have been lost in recent years, a municipal official said.
“Six of nine jade scavengers died when the cliff collapsed,” township administrator Kyaw Swa Aung told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “It’s in an area between two old jade mining sites."
The bodies of those killed were recovered in the evening and sent to Hpakant Township Hospital, he said.
The victims were identified as residents from Hsenni in northern Shan state, Hopin township in southern Shan state, and Thabeikkyin of Mandalay region, he said.
They all came to the mine near Spot village of Hpakant’s Sate Mu village tract to search for pieces of the precious stone left over from company mining operations, Kyaw Swa Aung said.
On Feb. 4, two jade scavengers were killed after a slag head of mining waste collapsed in Hmawsi Hsar village of Hpakant's Lonekin village tract.
At least 10 people have been killed this year by collapses and landslides at mining sites, according to Hpakant townships records.
Hpakant, which lies about 400 miles (640 kilometers) north of Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, is the center of the country’s jade mining industry and produces some of the highest-quality jade in the world.
Much of the gem is exported or smuggled to neighboring China, where demand for the precious stone is high.
Migrant workers from various parts of Myanmar descend on Hpakant throughout the year, but especially during the rainy season from May through October when landslides are most likely to occur, to search for jade remnants in the small mountains of slag cast off from mining.
Chinese and Myanmar mine operators usually allow the practice after their excavators have combed through the sites for large stones, though dozens are injured or killed each year in landslides or during confrontations security guards who work for the mine companies.
Calls for reform
A string of deadly mining-waste landslides that have occurred in recent years in Hpakant have prompted calls for reform.
In November 2015, at least 115 scavenging miners died in Hpakant township when two 200-foot-high (60-meter-high) piles of dirt buried some 70 makeshift huts at the site. Scores more were left missing.
In 2016, the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government stopped the extension of mining permits at existing gem blocks and suspended the licensing of new blocks in an effort to clean up the mining industry.
The passage of a Gemstone Law in December 2018, however, will do little to reform the multibillion-dollar jade sector rife with companies linked to Myanmar’s military and ethnic armed groups which are involved in illegal activities and human rights and environmental harms, London-based international anti-corruption NGO Global Witness said in a statement issued after the law’s passage.
The new law is a “key step” in the process of restarting the flawed gemstone permit process after a two-year moratorium, it said.
Paul Donowitz, the organization’s campaign leader for Myanmar, noted that the law was developed separately from a gemstone policy in its final stages and ignored recommendations of an environmental management plan commissioned by the Ministry for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.
“Without strong criteria companies with histories of illegal activities and irresponsible mining practices will be able to obtain new licenses,” the statement said.
Reported by Kyaw Tun Naing for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.