8 May 2016

Mining in Burma and hydroelectric power in China: two major landslides with familiar causes this weekend

Posted by Dave Petley

Mining in Burma and hydroelectric power in China: two major landslides with familiar causes

Regrettably over the course of this weekend we have seen two landslides that follow familiar patterns, one associated with mining in Burma (Myanmar) and one with the construction of facilities for generating hydroelectric power in China:

1. Another jade mining landslide in Burma

It has been widely reported that on Friday there was yet another substantial landslide in the Hpakant jade mining area of Burma.  Eleven Myanmar carries a local report with an image:

Thirteen jade scavengers have been killed and four injured on May 5 by a midnight landslide that hit a mining site run by the “111 Gems Company” in Seikmu village tract, Hpakant, Kachin State.  Rescue workers used backhoes to dig out 13 bodies, saying that two of them were still unidentified. Hpakant Township police announced the names.  “Normally the jade scavengers are not allowed into the site but sometimes the company works during the day and scavengers come at night, hunting for jade. It’s too dangerous work,” said police officer Myint Swe.

hydroelectric power in China

The aftermath of the jade mining landslide in Burma, via Eleven Myanmar


This is yet another in a sequence of mining-related landslides in Hpakant in the last two years, with brutal outcomes (see my blog post about jade mine landslides in 2015).  The high level of landslides appears to be associated with very dangerous mining practices that reportedly have resulted from an increase in jade excavation, driven by profiteering ahead of the formation of the democratically-elected government.  There is an urgent need to start to impose good practise on these operation to reduce the toll.  It is of course likely that on top of the major, internationally reported landslides there are large numbers of smaller landslides that kill a few people but go unreported.

Another deadly landslide during the development of facilities to generate hydroelectric power in China

Another long running theme on this blog has been the unacceptably high level of landslides associated with the development of hydroelectric power in China and India.  This was the subject of the paper that I presented at the Vajont conference in 2013; sadly the pattern has continued since.  Xinhua has a story about the most recent major landslide, in Taining County, Sanming City in Fujian Province.  Initial reports suggested 35 people were killed, this has now been reduced to 34.  Xinhua reports the landslide as follows:

The landslide occurred at about 5 a.m. in Taining county, where about 100,000 cubic meters of mud and rocks flowed downhill, burying the construction site of a hydropower station and its office building…  The landslide was triggered by heavy downpours that lashed down 191.6 millimeters of rainwater in 24 hours from Saturday.

A more recent story indicated interest in this event from both the Chinese President (Xi Jinping) and the Premier (Li Keqiang), and suggested that:

Xi also urged strengthening local monitoring and safety checks for hidden dangers to prevent secondary disasters.

I agree with this sentiment, but this has been stated many times previously to little obvious effect.  The one image of the site that has been released to date gives a pretty horrific indication of the impact of the landslide on the camp:

Hydroelectric power in China

The aftermath of the landslide at Taining County, Fujian on Sunday, via Xinhua