More than 120 miners were killed Thursday in a massive landslide in the jade mines of northern Burma, one of the worst disasters of this type in recent years, and the toll could still rise.
Lumps of rock fell into a lake after significant rainfall, causing a wave of mud that submerged a valley, in the township of Hpakant, near the chinese border, according to images broadcast on social networks.
The bodies of 126 minors have at this point been found, according to the fire department.
“After the collapse of the mine, ( … ), I’ve seen people in the lake. Some managed to swim to shore, told the AFP Kyaw Min, a villager who lives not far from there. Others have been swallowed.
The victims were working at the mine site, despite a warning from the authorities urging them not to enter because of the heavy rains, said the local police. Without this warning, ” one would have to have hundreds of dead “, after it.
The emergency services have worked throughout the morning to retrieve the body, using the tires as rafts of fortune.
Heavy rains continued to fall on the region, and the teams have had to discontinue the research.
Each year, tens of people are dying in the jade mines. In question, the working conditions very dangerous, especially during the monsoon season.
In 2015, more than 100 people were killed in a landslide. In 2019, a mudslide claimed the lives of 50 people.
Billions of dollars
Very prosperous, but little-regulated, the mining industry in Burma employs many workers not reported, and weighs several tens of billions of dollars, according to the NGO Global Witness.
The country is the world’s leading producer of jade, largely passed by in the neighbouring China.
The region of Hpakant, poor and difficult to access, has looked like a lunar landscape as it was transformed by these mines.
For years, these were operated by large private companies in partnership with the Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE), a public company, which issues licences for the extraction.
They dug large plots of up to hundreds of meters deep, causing significant damage to the environment.
To stop this exploitation without limits, the burmese government has imposed a moratorium on new mining licenses in 2016.
Businesses must now comply with environmental regulations expected to be more stringent in order to obtain the right of exploitation and can not dig surfaces of more than two hectares.
Result, many large mines have closed and the sites are no longer monitored, allowing the return of many minor independent. From ethnic communities and disadvantaged, they are operating almost in secret in the old sites left abandoned.
The disaster on Thursday was “preventable,” said to the AFP Hann Hindstrom, who works for Global Witness. There is an “urgent need” to regulate further the industry.
The abundant natural resources of northern Burma (including the jade, the precious wood, gold and amber) help to fund both sides of a civil war which lasted several decades between the rebels of the ethnic kachin and the burmese military.