Myanmar is suspending operations at more than 2,000 jade mines in the resource-rich Hpakant region of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state until environmental impact studies have been completed, a state official said of the government's latest response to a series of deadly landslides.
The central government decided in July not to renew hundreds of existing jade mining licenses that expired that month until companies complete environmental impact assessments as part of a policy by the National League for Democracy (NLD) administration to protect the environment.
Hpakant, which lies 651 kilometers (404 miles) north of Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, produces some of the highest-quality jade in the world, much of it exported or smuggled to China, where demand for the precious stone is high.
“They are not totally closed,” said Win Htein, director-general of the Mining Department of the Ministry for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation in Kachin state, referring to the mining concerns in Hpakant. “It is a temporary suspension of mining permission.”
All mining companies that want to continue to operate must submit environmental management plans starting Thursday.
With the government’s decision not to renew jade mining licenses, more than 300 mining companies operating in Kachin state were supposed to have stopped their operations by the end of July, according to a report by the online journal The Irrawaddy.
So far, seven mining companies have offered tenders to implement environmental management systems, Win Htein said.
Other jade mining licenses in Kachin state will expire in 2018 but will be renewed only after the companies complete environmental management plans.
Seven hundred companies are currently operating in the jade mining areas of Hpakant, Lone Khin, and Mohnyin in Kachin State, according to The Irrawaddy.
In a related development, the government of southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region issued a final warning to 100 mines to suspend their operations, a state minister said Tuesday.
“If they do business illegally, they can face action according to the law,” said Myint Maung, regional minister for natural resources and environmental conservation.
“We gave them two warnings every month, but they didn’t listen to us, and [pollution] in the stream is getting worse,” he said. “Also, the people who depend on this stream are suffering. That’s why we are warning them a final time.”
Myanmar's jade industry is worth U.S. $31 billion, according to a report issued last October by London-based anti-corruption and environmental advocacy group Global Witness.
Rights groups and local residents have protested against mining companies in recent months to get them to improve the safety of excavation areas in light of a series of deadly landslides caused by collapsing waste heaps.
They have also criticized the companies for the detrimental social and environmental impacts of their activities in the largely unregulated industry.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.