More than 500,000 people from all over Burma and from China are living in Hpakant. Miners that used to have a stake in smaller operations are now daily wage earners for bigger companies and earn less than US$1 per day. They work in life-threatening conditions without protection; accidents and fatalities occur without record or compensation.
Those who cannot get a job with a company resort to being Yemase or stone collectors who sift through dumped soil and tailings. They are hunted, beaten and killed by company security, sometimes hired Burmese Army soldiers, if they are found on “company property.”
Drug abuse (including injection drug use) is notorious in jade mining areas. Heroin, raw opium, methamphetamines and various mixtures of drugs are widely available. Mining company bosses and local authorities are complicit in a thriving local trade in drugs.
Injection drug use coupled with a thriving sex industry in Hpakant has led to a generalized HIV/AIDS epidemic that has spilled over the border into China.
Impacts on Women and Children
Water pollution has led to an increase in diseases and birth defects and governmental health support is almost non-existent. Every year hundreds of people die from diarrhea after drinking bad water in Hpakant, especially women and children.
Land confiscation and forced relocation are commonplace to make way for new jade 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 main river flowing through Hpakant, the Uru River, has changed its course and is now a flowing mess of mine tailings and dumped soil which has turned a sickly yellowish-red color.