Around 40 residents staged a protest on Monday calling for the shutdown of a gold-mining operation near Uru Creek in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township.
Residents of Hwaysai village say the mine, operated by local businessman Kyauk Win, has been eroding the river’s banks and obstructing the flow of water since it began in March of this year.
The villagers are calling for officials to step in and close the mine because they say it breaches government regulations that only allow companies to dump waste at 12 designated sites and not within 100 meters of the creek.
Earlier this year, locals raised their concerns about the future of Uru Creek when a gem company began building a road next to it. The process involved filling in parts of the creek and narrowing its banks, which villagers say raises the risk of flooding.
The area is already prone to flooding, with the worst floods hitting the area in 2014, displacing more than 1,000 residents. According to Tsa Ji, a local activist with the Kachin Development Networking Group, landslides are also a major concern.
“The mining companies are digging near the river banks and in the rainy season there is the problem of landslides, erosion and flooding,” he told DVB.
Since November, there have been 13 landslides in Hpakant, state media has reported, with the number of casualties reaching into the hundreds. The latest, at a closed jade mine in the village of Hwayhka, killed at least 10 people on Monday.
Although the risks associated with jade mining are well known in a region famous for being one of the world’s most important producers of the precious stone, gold mining also presents hazards of its own, says Tsa Ji.
“To extract the gold, they are using heavy machinery and a lot of chemicals like cyanide and mercury and just dumping it in the water,” he said.
Although he wasn’t involved in yesterday’s protest, Tsa Ji says that for some time local residents have been raising their concerns, but with no response from officials. “No one takes responsibility for the environmental impacts,” he said.
Reporting by Libby Hogan.