Hundreds of Myanmar villagers report diseases from toxic mine waste

Poisoned water in Kachin state is giving residents lesions all over their bodies, locals said.
By RFA Burmese
2023.11.24
Hundreds of Myanmar villagers report diseases from toxic mine waste Residents of Momauk township's Khaung Par village say they are contracting skin diseases from chemical mining waste.
The 74 Media

Residents in northern Myanmar are contracting diseases from nearby chemical waste, residents told Radio Free Asia. In Kachin state, rare earth mining produces toxic chemicals that end up in water sources, they said.

In Momauk township’s In Khaung Par village, locals said they are getting skin diseases after contact with water in a nearby stream.  

Liquid waste from mining sites is drained into a stream near In Khaung Par village, said a villager who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, and has affected the skin on his legs, palms and body. Many residents reported symptoms like peeling skin, rashes and sores on their hands, arms and legs. 

“This has never happened before. Our village mainly uses stream water. There has never been a disease [from it]. Last year the mining work began near the village,” he said. “A harsh liquid waste like acid was released from the rare earth mining ponds and poured into the stream. People use [the water] and get sores.”

More than 1,000 people live in In Khaung Par, and the majority have noticed symptoms from the chemical waste runoff, according to local residents. Along with skin lesions, some residents have also passed out. 

Despite the seriousness of the disease, most locals can’t afford treatment and have not gone to Momauk Hospital, the villager added. Most of the locals work in agriculture and are only using traditional medicine to treat themselves.

Rare earth mining near In Khaung Par village started in 2021 with the permission of the Kachin Independence Organization, locals said.

RFA called Kachin Independence Organization information officer Col. Naw Bu about the outbreak, but he did not respond by the time of publication. 

Rare earth minerals are widely used in technology and major supply chains around the world, and are heavily relied on by neighboring China. However, the industry’s growth has come at a high cost to local communities, including environmental destruction, land confiscation, along with providing funds for Myanmar’s military. 

Kachin residents have protested the mines, and told RFA they strongly object to the industry, whose sites have expanded to take up roughly as much land as Singapore. However, the Kachin Independence Army has not made any commitments to relocating or removing sites they said. 

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn.

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