A landslide in the Hpakant jade-mining region of northern Myanmar killed 15 people and injured a further 45, as they tried to recover jade from the underground operations.
Hpakant administrator Kyaw Swar Aung said that the victims were buried by muddy earth from a collapsed slope, leading directly to the deaths of 14 miners, while the 15th died in hospital. Myanmar is also currently experiencing a rainy season, which has led to a shutdown on legitimate mining operations and complicated rescue efforts.
“Local authorities already had ordered the shutdown of these sites as this is rainy season and everybody knows that this kind of disaster easily happens during this season,” said lawmaker Khin Maung Myint.
Jade-mining is both a hugely profitable and largely unregulated practice in the region; the mining trade centred in Hpakant generated around £31bn in 2014, although activists have argued that these profits have discouraged the government from increasing regulation in an already weakly regulated industry. Meanwhile, the number of deaths in the area continues to grow; in May, 17 people were killed in a mining compound when a wall collapsed onto them as miners dug for jade beneath them, and 116 miners were killed in a single landslide in the region three years ago.
Political and ethnic tensions have also destabilised the region. Myint believes that many of the landslide victims were young people of Kachin descent, a group that has fought against the Myanmar Government for independence from 1961 to a ceasefire in 1994. Since hostilities were resumed in 2011, around 100,000 civilians have been displaced, forcing many to work in illegal or dangerous environments, such as the closed jade mines of Hpakant to earn a living.
It is assumed many of the ‘scavengers’, namely those who try to extract jade from closed mines, will aim to sell their finds to buyers in China, a trade dubbed a ‘murky business’ by Channel News Asia.