6 June 2024

Yangon, Myanmar – The death toll from a landslide at an unregulated jade mine in a remote part of Myanmar has hit at least 31, with eight people still missing, rescuers said Wednesday.

The disaster struck on Sunday outside northern Kachin’s Hpakant township, after torrential rain and floods ravaged the region over the weekend.

Jade mining in Myanmar is lucrative due to high demand from neighbouring China, but the unregulated industry is plagued with frequent worker deaths.

“We found six more dead bodies this morning,” a rescue worker told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. They added that eight people remain unaccounted for, with the search continuing.

Rescuers dug through thick mud to find bodies, while others were discovered floating in water.

A massive pile of earth about 150 to 180 metres (500-600 feet) high — left behind by mining excavations — was loosened by the intense rainfall and collapsed, according to rescuers.

The rainy season had forced the suspension of mine operations but those caught in the landslide are believed to be locals who were trying to find something valuable in the mud.

Myanmar is the world’s biggest source of jade and in 2020 nearly 300 people lost their lives in a massive landslide at a Hpakant mine.

Jade and other abundant natural resources in Myanmar’s north — including timber, gold and amber — have helped finance both sides of a decades-long civil war between ethnic Kachin insurgents and the military.

While environmentalists and rights groups have long called for reforms, a 2021 military coup effectively ended hopes for better standards in the industry, according to international watchdogs.

After the putsch, monitoring group Global Witness urged a consumer boycott of jade and gemstones from Myanmar, warning the industry could become a “slush fund” for military repression.

More than 3,900 civilians have been killed since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.

By Agence France Presse