At least fifteen people have died in a series of landslides on the spoil heaps of jade mines around the town of Hpakant in Kachin State, Myanmar, this month. The first incident happened on Thursday 4 January 2018 six people were killed and another one was injured in a landslip on a spoil heap at the Hmaw Won Ward jade mine, where they were searching for any gemstones that might have been missed by the mine's operators. The second incident occurred on Saturday 6 January at Wai Khar Village, where five people were killed and another three were injured, again when they were caught in a landslide on the spoil heap of a large commercial mine. A third incident on Wednesday 10 January at the at the Yadanar San Shon Jade Mine is known to have killed at least four people, with rescue teams concerned that there might be more bodies as yet undiscovered (spoil-heap workers, known as Yay Ma Say, are often reluctant to discuss their activities with outsiders, even rescue workers, due to the legally dubious nature of the work).
Search teams on the spoil heap of the Yadanar San Shon Jade Mine on 11 January 2017. Yan Wai Linn/Myanmar Times.
Myanmar is the world's largest producer of jade, though much of this is produced (along with other precious and semi-precious minerals such as amber) at unregulated (and often illegal) artisanal mines in the north of the country, from where it is smuggled into neighbouring China. Accidents at such mines are extremely common, due to the more-or-less total absence of any safety precautions at the site. At many sites this is made worse by the unregulated use of explosives to break up rocks, often leading to the weakening of rock faces, which can then collapse without warning. The majority of people in this industry are migrant workers from the surrounding countryside, not registered with any local authority, which can make it difficult for rescuers to identify victims following such events, or even gain accurate assessments of the number of people likely to have been involved in such accidents.
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