August 19, 2016

A CALL TO ACT ON MINES — President urges to review safety policies as 114 die in landslide

Miners search for jade stones at a mine dump at a Hpakant jade mine in Kachin state on 25 November.
Miners search for jade stones at a mine dump at a Hpakant jade mine in Kachin state on 25 November.

FOLLOWING a recent deadly landslide at a jade mining site in Hpakant, Kachin State, President U Thein Sein spoke on the weakness of safety enforcement and regulations at risky work sites in his message to the country.
He expressed a deep sorrow for the deaths in the 11 November landslide at a mountain of dump soil, stressing that the tragedy was a message to the country to review safety policies and practices.
It is necessary to ‘strictly enforce’ safety rules as well as provide safety equipment to allow quick responses to accidents at work sites, said the president.
Local authorities in Hpakant are making arrangements to provide the necessary assistance to the relatives of victims, he added.
U Min Zar Ni, Senior Technical and Policy Analyst of the Myanmar EITI, pointed out weakness in the technology used for dumping soils from mines, suggesting the adoption of long-term polices for dumping soil.
The Ministry of Mines has adopted rules for the dumping of soil but has been weak to monitor and enforce those rules,” he said to The Global New Light of Myanmar.
The expert also suggested raising awareness of ‘risk factors’ in mining areas in regards to landslides , such a program would be aimed at proving knowledge to mine workers and the local authorities.
U Khet Htain Nan, an MP from Kachin State, brought the issue of frequent landslides in Hpakant to the parliament on 30 November, stressing the need to make amendments to the Myanmar Gems Law in order to guarantee the safety and livelihoods of local people. He also pointed out the weakness of law enforcement for jade mining operations, which has failed to prevent the dumping of waste soil. The regulation of transportation, environmental conservation and marketing in the jade industry was also highlighted.
“The environment in Hpakant has been deteriorating for about 40 years. Environmental conservation is very weak and companies have used lots of heavy machinery in their jade mining operations,” said the MP at the parliamentary meeting.
In an effort to prevent future landslides, local authorities have planned to inspect mountains of dump soil routinely, according to Hpakant Township Administration Office.
“We have relocated 108 migrant miners living in high risk areas to a safety site which  is about 3,000 ft away from the local mountains of dump soil,” said U Tint Swe Myint, the Hpakant Township Administration Officer in an interview with The Global New Light of Myanmar  yesterday over the phone.
Currently, local authorities have formed 11 inspection teams at the ward-village level and have carried out inspections at 11 mountains of dump soil. This will continue to occur twice per week.
Meanwhile, a township-level inspection team is conducting inspections there every Saturday, said U Tint Swe Myint.
In Hpakant, there have been 37 landslides of dumped soil, including the 11 November landslide, which killed more than 114 migrant miners searching for jade in the piles of waste soil on the mountainside.
So far, 70 makeshift tents in the at-risk area have been removed, according to local authorities.
“If we find conditions that show that landslides can happen in the mountains, we will stop companies from dumping waste soil there,” said U Tin Swe Myint.
The deadly landslide was caused by the collapse of a 200-foot mountain of dump soil. It buried around 70 makeshift huts located in the ravine between two mountains of dump soil, killing 114 migrant miners.
The dump soil was deposited there by jade mining companies. Only five huts in the ravine escaped the landslide, according to a local resident.


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