24 November 2015

The Burma jade mine landslide disaster

Posted by Dave Petley

The Burma jade mine landslide disaster

News from within Burma about the jade mine landslide disaster is hard to find, so inevitably I have to rely on external reports.  The Chinese news agency Xinhua reports that to date 113 bodies have been recovered, and there is a lack of clarity about how many more people may have died.  The landslide struck an informal settlement, so little information is available.  However, the Myanmar Times suggests that it is likely to be in the order of 200 people,

The best image I have seen of the landslide is this one, from Eleven Media Group / AP:

Burma jade mine landslide

The Burma jade mine landslide, courtesy of Eleven Media Group, (Eleven Media Group via AP)


The image appears to show a classic mining flowslide, originating from a spoil heap.  Note the figures in the lower part of the landslide in a small track, which give an idea of the scale of the Burma jade mine landslide.  The slide itself has in interesting structure, with very strong levee structures on both sides.  Note also a small number of houses on the right side of the landslide – this may give an indication as to the location of the settlement before the landslide.  There can be essentially no prospect of survivors.

Landslides of this type should be entirely avoidable – the potential for the failure of spoil tips has been known for half a decade, and in countries with good mine management the occurrence is now very low.  That there are these repeated mining landslides in the jade mine area of Kachin State indicates poor mining practices.

Youtube has some mobile phone footage of the attempts to recover the victims:-


Whilst mining practices by illegal miners are undoubtedly very dangerous, this landslide is unlikely to have been triggered by such small scale activity.  The other spoil tips on the photograph above have similar geometries to the one that failed.  These need urgent attention.