Landslide at Myanmar jade mine kills at least 123 people

Rescuers attempt to locate survivors after a landslide at a jade mine in Hpakant, Kachin state in northern Myanmar on July 2, 2020. (Myanmar Fire Services Department/AFP)
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Updated 02 July 2020

Landslide at Myanmar jade mine kills at least 123 people

  • Search and rescue efforts had been suspended due to heavy rains

HPAKANT: At least 123 people were killed Thursday in a landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar, the worst in a series of deadly accidents at such sites in recent years that critics blame on the government's failure to take action against unsafe conditions.
The Ministry of Information said 123 bodies were recovered from the landslide in Hpakant, the center of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry. The most detailed estimate of Myanmar’s jade industry said it generated about $31 billion in 2014.
Hpakant is a rough and remote area of Kachin state, 950 kilometers (600 miles) north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.
“The jade miners were smothered by a wave of mud,” said a statement from the Myanmar Fire Service Department, which coordinates rescues and other emergency services. The army also took part in the recovery operation along with other government units and local volunteers.
The London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness said the accident “is a damning indictment of the government”s failure to curb reckless and irresponsible mining practices in Kachin state's jade mines."
“The government should immediately suspend large-scale, illegal and dangerous mining in Hpakant and ensure companies that engage in these practices are no longer able to operate,” it said in a statement.
At the site of the tragedy, a crowd gathered in the rain around corpses shrouded in blue and red plastic sheets placed in a row on the ground.
Emergency workers had to slog through heavy mud to retrieve bodies by wrapping them in the plastic sheets, which were then hung on crossed wooden poles shouldered by the recovery teams.
Khin Maung Myint, a lawmaker from Hpakant, earlier said that in addition to the dead, 54 other people were injured and sent to hospitals. An unknown number of people were feared missing.
Social activists have complained that the profitability of jade mining has led businesses and the government to neglect enforcement of already very weak regulations in the jade mining industry.
“The multi-billion dollar sector is dominated by powerful military-linked companies, armed groups and cronies that have been allowed to operate without effective social and environmental controls for years,” Global Witness said. Although the military is no longer directly in power in Myanmar, it is still a major force in government and exercises authority in remote regions.
Thursday's death toll surpasses that of a November 2015 accident that left 113 dead and was previously considered the country's worst. In that case, the victims died when a 60-meter (200-foot) -high mountain of earth and waste discarded by several mines tumbled in the middle of the night, covering more than 70 huts where miners slept.
Those killed in such accidents are usually freelance miners who settle near giant mounds of discarded earth that has been excavated by heavy machinery. The freelancers who scavenge for bits of jade usually work and live in abandoned mining pits at the base of the mounds of earth, which become particularly unstable during the rainy season.
Most scavengers are unregistered migrants from other areas, making it hard to determine exactly how many people are actually missing after such accidents and in many cases leaving the relatives of the dead in their home villages unaware of their fate.
Global Witness, which investigates misuse of revenues from natural resources, documented the $31 billion estimate for Myanmar's jade industry in a 2015 report that said most of the wealth went to individuals and companies tied to the country's former military rulers. More recent reliable figures are not readily available.
It said at the time the report was released that the legacy to local people of such business arrangements “is a dystopian wasteland in which scores of people at a time are buried alive in landslides.”
In its statement Thursday, Global Witness blamed the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, which came to power in 2016, for failing “to implement desperately needed reforms, allowing deadly mining practices to continue and gambling the lives of vulnerable workers in the country's jade mines.”
Jade mining also plays a role in the decades-old struggle of ethnic minority groups in Myanmar's borderlands to take more control of their own destiny.
The area where members of the Kachin minority are dominant is poverty stricken despite hosting lucrative deposits of rubies as well as jade.
The Kachin believe they are not getting a fair share of the profits from deals that the central government makes with mining companies.
Kachin guerrillas have engaged in intermittent but occasionally heavy combat with government troops.


Europe battles to contain virus second wave as global cases top 30 million

Updated 18 September 2020

Europe battles to contain virus second wave as global cases top 30 million

  • The British PM said there was “no question” that his country was “now seeing a second wave coming in”
  • Worldwide the respiratory disease has killed nearly 947,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China

MADRID: A host of European countries imposed new local restrictions on Friday to reduce spiralling new cases of coronavirus as they seek to avoid the example of Israel which enforced a second nationwide shutdown.
City authorities in Madrid announced a partial lockdown on nearly a million people, the British government unveiled new measures limiting social contact in several regions, while Ireland banned indoor dining at restaurants and pubs in Dublin.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was “no question” that his country was “now seeing a second wave coming in” as he toured the site of a new vaccine center.
“We are seeing it in France, in Spain, across Europe — it has been absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable we were going to see it in this country,” he added.
In France, where new daily cases hit a fresh record of 13,000 on Friday, the government is struggling to create enough testing capacity as new hotspots emerge daily.
The city of Nice on the Riviera banned groups of more than 10 people meeting on its beach, in parks or public gardens.
Worldwide the respiratory disease has killed nearly 947,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP, while more than 30.2 million cases have been registered.
“We’re adding about 1.8 to two million cases per week to the global case count, and an average somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 deaths,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual news conference.
“Thankfully that is not rising exponentially. This is a hugely high figure to be settling at. That is not where we want to be.”
In Madrid, one of the worst affected areas in Europe during the first wave of Covid-19 in March and April, medics warned that hospitals were getting close to capacity again.
“Intensive care units are overwhelmed with Covid patients,” Santiago Usoz, an accident and emergency medic at the October 12 hospital, told AFP.
A partial lockdown was announced for residents of several areas in densely populated, low-income neighborhoods in the south of the capital which will come into force on Monday.
People will only be allowed to leave their zone to go to work, seek medical care or take their children to school, while bars and restaurants will have to reduce their capacity by 50 percent, the regional government of Madrid said.
Rules preventing people from socialising with anyone from outside their household were imposed in northeast England on Friday, putting more than two million people under new restrictions.
These will be extended to other parts of northwest, northern and central England from Tuesday.
“We’re prepared to do what it takes both to protect lives and to protect livelihoods,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC television on Friday.
Music legend Van Morrison made his frustration known on Friday, saying he had recorded three “protest songs” called “Born To Be Free,” “As I Walked Out” and “No More Lockdown.”
Israel has become the first major country to impose another national shutdown which began on Friday, hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and wil last for three weeks.
The measures, under which people will be limited to within 500 meters of their home, will also hit other key religious holidays including Yom Kippur.
“The economy is in freefall, people are losing their jobs, they’re depressed,” said 60-year-old Yael, one of hundreds who protested in Tel Aviv late on Thursday.
“And all this for what? For nothing!“
Meanwhile, most of a group of more than a thousand Orthodox Jewish pilgrims who had camped along the border between Ukraine and Belarus left on Friday after being refused entry due to coronavirus rules.
Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews head to the central Ukrainian city of Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
In the United States, US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden continued to trade barbs over the handling of the pandemic.
Trump has expressed confidence that a viable Covid-19 vaccine would be ready by October, directly contradicting a top administration health expert
Elsewhere, new details emerged about a wedding in rural Maine in August which became a so-called “superspreader” event that left seven people dead and 177 infected.
The nuptials at a church and hotel near the picturesque town of Millinocket were attended by 65 people, breaking the official limit of 50 allowed at a gathering.