By MRATT KYAW THU | FRONTIER
YANGON — At least 54 people are feared dead after a pile of tailings at a mining site collapsed late on Monday in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township, burying mine workers and machinery, in the latest disaster to hit the multi-billion dollar jade industry.
The landslide happened on Monday evening at a site operated by three mining companies, H La Aung, former Kachin State Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation told Frontier by telephone.
He estimated that more than 25 people had been killed. “It’s too much,” he said.
The Ministry of Information said on Tuesday that 28 employees of Myanmar Thura Gems Company and 26 miners employed by Shwe Nagar Koe Kaung were buried in the landslide, along with 40 pieces of machinery owned by the two companies.
Frontier was unable to reach either of the companies for comment.
General Administration Department staff, volunteers and company officials had been trying to rescue the victims since Tuesday morning, the ministry said in a statement posted to its official Facebook page.
Lower house lawmaker U Tin Soe (National League for Democracy, Hpakant) told Reuters on Tuesday that three bodies had been pulled from the debris.
He told the news agency that the 54 workers and machines were trapped when a pile of earth collapsed.
“They won’t survive. It is not possible because they are buried under mud,” he said.
The jade industry in Hpakant earns billions of US dollars each year, but profits rarely reach the miners who risk their lives every day in the hope of striking it rich.
A lack of regulations and poor oversight also means that little of the profits are taxed.
Mr Paul Donowitz, campaign leader for Myanmar at watchdog group Global Witness said the tragic loss of life once again highlighted the urgent need for accountability in Myanmar’s jade sector.
“Mining companies are placing profit before people and causing needless deaths as a result. This cannot continue. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation must immediately investigate the companies responsible for this deadly landslide to ensure that they are held accountable for any negligence or reckless business practices that may have caused the landslide,” he said to Frontier.
“Moreover, if any companies are found to be illegally operating they should be barred from any future jade mining permits.”
– Additional reporting by Clare Hammond