16 December 2015

Burma jade mine landslides: an annus horribilis

Posted by Dave Petley

Small-scale miners search for stone as dump trucks from Myanmar Sein Lei Aung mining company dump waste in Hmaw Si Zar, Lone Khin, Hpakant, April 2015. These dumping operations are the major cuase of the Burma jade mine landslides. From Time Maganzine

“Small-scale miners search for stone as dump trucks from Myanmar Sein Lei Aung mining company dump waste in Hmaw Si Zar, Lone Khin, Hpakant, April 2015”. These dumping operations are the major cause of the Burma jade mine landslides. From Time Magazine

Burma jade mine landslides

Yesterday there were reports of yet another landslide in the jade mine area of northern Burma (Myanmar).  This time the landslide appears to have killed at least one person, with a further ten missing.  If these individuals were buried then the likelihood that they survived is very low.  Whilst reports are sketchy, it appears that this was another collapse of a waste pile onto informal miners who scavenge the dumps:

The Irrawaddy news service cited a police officer Tuesday as saying that one person had been confirmed dead since the collapse of a dump pile in La Mong Kone village of Hpakant township the day before.  “The landslide moved slowly, so most of the people working on the waste pile had time to run for their lives,” he said.  “According to witnesses, he fell down from a cliff and was buried deeply,” he added, warning of the threat of more landslides in the area.  Khin Maung, a miner who witnessed the collapse, told The Irrawaddy that around 20 people had been mining for jade residue at the time of the incident. “The waste pile slowly slid down, with people shouting and running away. Some escaped, but some did not,” Khin Maung added.

Burma jade mine landslides

Irresponsible dumping may be the cause of Burma Jade mine landslides, from the Telegraph

The Hpakant area of Burma has suffered a string of major landslides this year, including the following prior to the most recent event:

Date Location Fatalities Injuries
06/01/2015 Hpakant town 2
08/02/2015 Hpakant town 4
06/03/2015 Maw Mau Layang, Hpakant town 24
30/03/2015 Hpakant town 30 2
09/04/2015 Lonekhin village, Hpakant town 70
20/11/2015 Sankhatku village, Hpakant town c.214


Over 300 fatalities in a year is a truly dreadful toll for a hazard that should be entirely avoidable.  A key question is why Burma has suddenly started to suffer such huge losses.  Has something changed, or could it be that only now is information about the level of loss becoming apparent.    The answers lie in a fascinating article on the Human Rights Watch website:

The miners were working at a site used by dozens of Burmese and Chinese companies that have dramatically increased mining in the past year, driving many small-scale miners to scavenge for small jade deposits the machinery misses, in dangerous dump sites where landslides are common. Since large-scale mining resumed in 2014, profits have skyrocketed, but that has done little to reduce the threats to miners’ safety.

Unfortunately until safety at the mines in Burma is addressed, landslide losses will continue at this rate.  It is tempting to blame the illegal miners scavenging the waste dumps, but the reality is that it in incumbent on the mining companies to make their operations safe.