Saturday 25 December 2021

Dozens feared dead following landside at Myanmar jade mine.

One person has been confirmed dead and dozens more are feared to have died following a landslide on a spoil heap in the jade-mining town of Hpakant in Myanmar's northwestern Kachin Province on Wednesday 22 December 2021. The incident happened at about 4.00 am local time, when local people and migrants drawn to the area by the prospect of finding jade were scouring the spoil heap for material missed by the official mining operation. Rescue teams report finding one body and twenty five people with injuries, who were taken to a local hospital for treatment, but it is feared that between 20 and 80 more people could still be missing, either buried beneath the debris or swept into a lake at the bottom of the slope; unfortunately because of the illegal nature of the activity, scavenging the spoil heaps tends to take place at night, no records are kept of how many people are involved, and local communities are reluctant to report missing relatives to the authorities.

Rescue workers searching a spoil heap in Hpakant, Myanmar, where dozens of people are feared to have been buried in a landslide on Wednesday 22 December 2021. EPA.

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.

The approximate location of the town of Hpakant. Google Maps.

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