At least 113 people were buried alive when a wave of mud swept through a jade mine in northern Myanmar, in one of the worst disasters to hit the notoriously dangerous industry.
Workers had been collecting stones in the mountainous terrain of Hpakant township when they were trapped by the landslide on Thursday morning.
Images from the scene showed teams wading through a flooded valley, searching for missing workers. So far, at least 54 injured people have been sent to three hospitals, a local lawmaker from Hpakant, Khin Maung Myint, told Associated Press.
Conditions are treacherous for the low-paid migrant workers who toil in Myanmar’s jade mines, particularly during monsoon season. Last year 54 miners were engulfed by a muddy lake that breached its banks near to a mine in Hpakant. People from impoverished ethnic communities, who search for scraps left behind by big firms, are often the victims of such disasters.
The government has previously pledged to clean up the lucrative jade business, but it remains poorly regulated. Equipment failures and other accidents are common in the industry, which is controlled by the military elite and private conglomerates.
Hpakant is in Kachin state, home to the world’s largest and most valuable jade deposits, but little of the profits trickles down into the country. In 2014 a report by Global Witness put the value of jade production in Myanmar at about $31bn, nearly half of Myanmar’s GDP that year. The vast majority of the jade is smuggled to China, where jade is highly sought after and associated with royalty, bypassing tax authorities.
Northern Myanmar’s abundant natural resources – including jade, timber, gold and amber – help finance both sides of a decades-long civil war between ethnic Kachin insurgents and the military. The fight to control the mines and the revenues they bring frequently traps local civilians in the middle.