Gold mining has become an issue of debate in Kachin State as it has been expanding rapidly since the mid-1990s. Since that time, traditional small-scale gold mining, mainly done by locals, has gradually been replaced by large-scale gold mining that creates serious destruction. Gold mining companies are operating along all the major rivers and also on land where gold yielding sediments are found. Our research in 2006 found 100 hydraulic and pit mines using mechanized pumps and dredges and dumping mercury-contaminated tailings inside the Hugawng Tiger Reserve after the military regime expanded its control in that area. These practices continue today. Recently extensive gold mining along the N’Mai, Mali, and Irrawaddy rivers has exploded in advance of dams planned on those rivers.
|Last Updated on Friday, 26 August 2011 12:47|
Difficult working conditions in the mines and depression among young people has increased the demand for drugs while the collusion of local authorities has allowed drug suppliers to move into mining areas. The communities set up in gold mining areas, where men are separated from their spouses and young people separated from families, have fostered the development of the sex industry. A sense of desperation has led to widespread gambling, from which powerful figures, including the authorities, profit. These industries have had serious social impacts, including drug addiction and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Far from seeking to alleviate these impacts, local government authorities collect fees from the drug traders, brothels, and gambling dens. At the same time, token action or campaigns against illicit activities often net only small players.
Miners work in life-threatening conditions without protection; accidents and fatalities occur without record or compensation.
Impacts on Women and Children
Rivers and streams turn dull green, yellowish red, or putrid because of water pollution caused by chemical wastes and fuel oil from mining operations. Gold miners not only work in the contaminated water but also drink it. People wash their clothes and bathe in the dirty and harmful water while the small children play in the streams. Water pollution has led to an increase in diseases and birth defects and governmental health support is almost non-existent.
Land confiscation and forced relocation are commonplace to make way for new gold mining areas. Rural children from villages that are frequently forced to move therefore cannot attend school. As the mines swallow up forest and farm areas, women collecting drinking water, firewood, vegetables and traditional herbs in the forest and hill farms increasingly face hardships. Loss of livelihoods contributes to further migration and vulnerability to trafficking.
Improper mining practices lead to erosion, frequent landslides, floods, pollution, and other environmental damage. The rivers flowing through the gold mining has changed its course and is now a flowing mess of mine tailings and dumped soil which has turned a sickly yellowish-red color.
Mercury is commonly used as a reagent to extract gold in Kachin State. Miners often squeeze a gold mercury mixture inside a cloth by hand, throw off any remaining mercury and collect the solid gold that remains. During this process, some mercury flows into the rivers, some is collected for reuse, and the rest is released into the air and wider environment as gas. Tailings- the leftover crushed rock material and chemical agents like mercury mixed together- are often dumped into rivers or left at mine sites.
|Last Updated on Friday, 26 August 2011 13:21|
All investment in large scale mining projects in Burma must be stopped until there is a democratic government to ensure transparency, accountability, the recognition of rights, and social justice in sustainable development projects. This includes a functioning government that will enforce laws that prohibit unregulated dumping of toxic wastes at mining sites.
Sustainable alternative mining policies must be developed by a democratic government: Small scale mining operations that have minimum impact to the environment that can be managed by communities are already used in Burma. Such projects should be favored over large-scale mining that is more destructive.
There needs to be a process for cleaning up and reclaiming destroyed areas as well as adequate compensation for already affected local people living in those areas.
For more information please see the reports Valley of Darkness and At What Price?
|Last Updated on Friday, 26 August 2011 13:24|