Residents from two townships in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state gathered in the state capital Myitkyina on Friday to demand that officials end to mining activities in their region, saying that the operations have polluted a key water source, those involved in the event said.
The residents of 22 villages located near mining sites in Chipwi and Pang War townships say they are now facing a drinking water shortage, and that they are fearful about using water from Chipwi creek because it makes their skin itchever when they come into contact with it.
Chipwi town is located beside the N'Mai River just below where Chipwi creek enters the waterway, while Pang War lies about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of Chipwi.
Villagers whose livelihoods depend on fishing say their incomes have taken a hit because consumers from neighboring China have rejected seafood from possibly toxic waters, said Pang War resident Ra Wai.
“We have to rely on fishing, but we came to realize the problem after Chinese buyers stopped buying our fish,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“There’s no transparency about health-related issues,” she said. “We haven’t been informed about the problem. Now locals are consuming the fish since the Chinese stopped buying them.”
Some researchers say they found dumped chemical packaging from mining operations in the area, which caused nearby land to dry up and affected the environment.
Lum Zaung, secretary of the local conservation group Laung Pyi Khaung, said the chemical waste has killed animals in the area.
“Used chemical packages are being dumped recklessly,” he told RFA. “They are being transported carelessly, with the contents spilling out along the way. Animals ate them and died. The mining has resulted in less pasture land, and animal breeders have had to travel away from the area.”
Laung Pyi Khaung has issued a report detailing the impact of the mining industry in Kachin state, including drinking water shortages, animal deaths, environmental damage, loss of agricultural land, and land grabs by mining companies, he said.
Locals who work in Kachin’s mines complain that they are paid less than their Chinese counterparts, Lum Zaung said.
Residents of villages in Chipwi and Pang War townships are now demanding that officials take action against the mining companies and force them to compensate villagers for the damage they have caused.
A lucrative industry
Myanmar’s lucrative mining industry is mainly run by companies associated with leaders of local militia groups and border guard forces.
Many of the largest licensed mining companies in Kachin state are controlled by the families of politically influential retired generals, wrote Eugene Mark, senior analyst from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, in a March article for the online news service The Diplomat.
Researchers say six companies operate more than 100 sites, some of which are owned by Chinese companies but are registered under Myanmar owners.
They have also pointed out that officials issue temporary licenses for mining operations in Chipwi and Pang War townships.
Kyaw San, a director at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, told RFA that ministry officials are holding discussions on mining businesses that operate in the country, including ones in Kachin state.
“Our minister is still in talks with Kachin state’s chief minister,” he said. “The talks are not finished yet, and I am not sure whether they include water issues.”
Kachin state’s abundant natural resources — gold, amber, jade, copper, and rubies — have fueled a long-running civil war between the Kachin Independence Army, an ethnic armed organization, and the Myanmar military, which have clashed over the control of mining areas used to finance their operations.
The hostilities have caused an obstacle to implementing lasting peace in the war-torn state and have worsened a socioeconomic crisis for civilians who live there, Mark wrote in his article for The Diplomat.
Reported by Elizabeth Jangma for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.