28 September 2018
Hpakant, Myanmar: the on-going tragedy of landslides from jade mining
A news report on Eleven Myanmar today describes yet another mining-induced landslide in the Hpakant area of Myanmar, this time killing four illegal jade miners. On this occasion, as on so many previous occasions, the deaths were of poor scavengers trying to recover jade from abandoned mine workings.
The area around Hpakant is without doubt the global hotspot for landslide fatalities in recent years; the Google Earth image below shows the magnitude of the mines, which have expanded rapidly and with a remarkable disregard for health and safety and for the protection of the environment. From the air the mining sites look truly dreadful;l:-
There is little doubt that conditions on the ground are far worse for the miners and their families. Since the start of 2015 I have recorded 33 fatal landslides in the mining areas of Hpakant, resulting in 807 fatalities. This is without doubt an underestimate; it is certain that many smaller landslides go unreported, and it is likely that even events with substantial numbers of deaths are not recognised. The graph below shows the cumulative number of deaths since January 2015:-
Back in 2015 and early 2016 there was a surge in landslide fatalities, widely assumed to be related to increases in organised mining ahead of the transition to a civilian government. Since then the number of fatalities has slowed significantly, but in the last year there has been a rapid acceleration in events, in most cases associated with illegal / unregulated mining activities, often on spoil tips. It is not clear to me as to why this has happened, it could be better reporting or it could be that there is a socioeconomic effect driving a change in mining patterns. This needs further investigation.
Whatever the cause, these fatalities are avoidable, and the graph shows 807 individual tragedies, without even considering those who have been seriously injured.