At least three dead and 80 missing after landslide at jade mine site in Hpakant, Myanmar

In yet another disaster of the illegal jade mining industry in Myanmar, at least three people died and over 80 are missing after a landslide hit Hpakant in the early hours of December 22. Most of those missing are reportedly mine workers

December 27, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Looking down rubble slope at a jade mine in Kachin State, where most of Myanmar's illegal jade mining occurs. Photo: Yin Min Tun/ Wikimedia

Over 80 people are reported to be missing after a landslide hit a jade mining site near the Thayar Gone village in Hpakant Township in north Myanmar in the early hours of December 22. Rescue teams of the fire department of Kachin State have recovered three bodies so far. Most of those missing are reportedly jade mine workers and scavengers at the waste site who were swept into the lake and buried under the debris of the landslide.

As reported by Reuters, the Kachin Network Development Foundation, a local civil society group involved in the rescue operation, has estimated the number of missing at around 80.

Deadly landslides regularly occur at Hpakant due to rampant overmining of the hills. A similar accident had occurred in July last year when a mountain of mining waste collapsed into a lake leading to the death of at least 174 people at the site.

Jade mining in Myanmar is an illegal and highly unregulated industry that is worth billions of dollars annually and supplies 90% of the jade worldwide. Jadeite or more popularly jade, a translucent mass of sodium aluminium silicate extracted from limestone deposits, is a coveted gemstone in international trade for jewellery-making.

Mining in Hpakant was banned in 2019 amid COVID-19 restrictions by the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) government but was resumed shortly after the military junta came to power following the coup d’état in February this year.

The illegal mining of jade usually takes place in the cover of night and employs migrant workers from remote corners of the country.

Hpakant, along with Hkamti and Mohnyin, is one of the major mining centers located in northern Myanmar. Over the years, it has frequently experienced landslides and conflict between the junta and rebel ethnic groups over the control of the jade-mining business in these areas.

According to Global Witness, an international watchdog that monitors exploitation of natural resources, growing insecurity and conflict has led to a sharp rise in illegal mining, fuelled by economic woes and uncertainty linked to the coup and the COVID-19 pandemic.