2020 Hpakant jade mine disaster
|Date||2 July 2020|
|Location||Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar|
|Missing||at least 100|
The Hpakant jade mine disaster was a mining disaster in which a landslide killed at least 174 miners, while at least 100 went missing, and an additional 54 people were injured in a jade mining site in the Hpakant area of Kachin State in Myanmar. The disaster took place on 2 July 2020 and is the deadliest mining accident to date in Myanmar.
Myanmar's jade industry is worth US$790 million per Myanmar's official statistics, but independent estimates put it at US$30–31 billion worth per year. The industry had become known for its fatal accidents in the preceding years, with the previous deadliest accident in 2015 killing 116 people. While the government responded with promises to make reforms in the jade mining industry, activists claim that little has been done in practice since then.
The miners killed or injured by the landslide were independent "jade pickers", who scavenge tailings from larger operators and who live in ramshackle quarters at the base of large mounds of rubble excavated by heavy machinery. The day before the disaster authorities warned them of the dangers created by heavy rainfall. This warning was ignored by many miners. At 06:30 local time heavy rains triggered the collapse of a heap of mining waste, which came tumbling down into a lake. This then generated a 6.1-meter (20 ft) wave of mud and water that buried those working at the site.
Myanmar is the largest supplier of jade, in a trade worth US$790 million per Myanmar's official statistics, though independent estimates put it at US$30–31 billion worth per year.[note 1] The industry is known for frequent accidents at its mining sites. The largest jade mine in the world is at Hpakant in Kachin state.
Scores of miners have been killed in smaller accidents in recent years, with independent "jade pickers" who scavenge tailings from larger operators particularly at risk. These freelance miners live in ramshackle quarters at the base of large mounds of rubble excavated by heavy machinery. The freelance miners are often migrants from other regions of Myanmar and are unregistered, which complicated identification of the missing people. Mining is performed at the site by hundreds of people who scavenge through tailings dumped by trucks at the site. The tailings form large slopes, in a moonscape-like scene devoid of trees, which is susceptible to collapse.
In 2015, a landslide killed at least 116 people in the mine. After the incident and the formation of Htin Kyaw's Cabinet, led by Htin Kyaw and Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016, the cabinet promised to reform the jade industry and reduce the accidents. Activists claim, however, that little has been done in practice since the Cabinet took power that same year. In 2019, fifty workers were buried in a mine collapse, resulting in the deaths of 2 rescue workers and 4 miners. According to the BBC at least 100 people died in that year.
|Landslide Kills At Least 162 in Myanmar’s Jade Mining Hub (Bloomberg QuickTake News)|
The day before the accident, authorities issued a warning against mining in the area due to heavy rainfall. This warning was ignored by many miners.
The Myanmar Fire Services Department said that at the time of the incident, the open-pit mine, which was owned by a local business conglomerate, was inactive. According to news reports, the workers at the site were freelancing scavengers who were scouring the tailings of the mine.
At 06:30 local time, heavy rains triggered the collapse of a heap of mining waste which came tumbling down into a lake. This then generated a wave of mud and water which buried those working at the site. The wave was described by witnesses as being "20 feet high" (6.1 m). The collapse and the subsequent wave of mud and water was captured on video, as were the frantic attempts of escape by miners.
A witness stated that the tailings pile showed signs of instability, but collapsed too quickly for workers to leave the area. The witness was quoted by Reuters as saying that "Within a minute, all the people at the bottom [of the hill] just disappeared. I feel empty in my heart ... There were people stuck in the mud shouting for help but no-one could help them".
In addition, it is feared that many miners are trapped. Rescue efforts were hampered by the heavy rains.
Photographs from the area showed lines of recovered bodies placed on a hill. Dozens of recovered unidentified bodies were buried in a mass grave dug out by a mechanical digger near the landslide. The death toll is expected to rise, as other bodies are in the mud. While the Myanmar jade industry is known for fatalities and accidents, the 2020 disaster is the deadliest accident to date.
The Myanmar Army removed Kachin Security and Border Affairs Minister Colonel Nay Lin Tun and another commander from their posts over the accident. Army spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun stated that "they were responsible for reporting any trespassing in this restricted area" and that they failed in carrying this out.
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