A landslide at a jade mine in Northern Myanmar, on Thursday killed at least 126 people, emergency services said, the worst accident in years to hit an area notorious for unsafe mining conditions.
Khin Myint, who represents the Hpakant township for the governing National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said the landslide struck at about 7:30 am (0100 GMT).
“The bodies are being taken to the mortuary,” he said.
The victims were scavenging for jade at the open-cast mine in Wai Khar village when they were hit by a wave of mud that rescue services blamed on heavy monsoon rain.
It is the deadliest accident in Hpakant in Myanmar’s restive Kachin state since a landslide in the area in 2015 killed 115 people.
According to figures compiled from local media reports by openjadedata.org, the landslides that took place in 2019 killed 58 people in the region and 95 the previous year.
Many migrant workers in Hpakant earn money by picking through huge mounds of discarded mining debris with the hope of finding stray pieces of jade.
An independent analyst covering Myanmar, David Mathieson, said the NLD party has done little to improve dangerous conditions for miners since coming to power five years ago after decades of military rule.
“I think the welfare of jade miners is the least of the NLD’s concerns, they have evinced little interest in improving safety across the board in the mining sector, especially in a place like Hpakant.
“The mining town is akin to a “fiefdom of greed out of the control of Naypyitaw.
“Accidents like this happen so frequently they’re easy to ignore,” Mathieson said.
According to a 2015 estimate by campaign group Global Witness, Myanmar’s jade industry is worth about 31 billion dollars a year, equivalent to roughly half the country’s GDP.
“Much of that is made on the black market and never makes it to state coffers,“the watchdog said.
Kachin has been upended by conflict since a ceasefire between Kachin Independence Army rebels and the Myanmar military broke down in 2011.
According to group, jade industry is controlled by powerful elite who took control of multi-billion dollar mines under Myanmar’s former military dictatorship.
However, the group blamed the industry for helping to fuel the conflict, arguing a peace deal that fairly distributed the state’s resources would mean powerful military families losing out on vast profits.