The prelate notes that “In these tragic times of COVID lockdown there cannot be a lockdown of the fire of hunger” which “forced those poor to seek the crumbs of jade that fall from mega companies' bulldozers.” For him, “This mine tragedy is a grim reminder of the need for sharing God given natural treasures.” Indeed, “The treasures of Myanmar belong to the people of Myanmar.” Sadly, “This is not the first time of this merciless tragedy and if the relevant stakeholders do not respond with compassion and justice, this will not be the last time of this inhuman tragedy.”
Yangon (AsiaNews/ÉdA) – The 172 miners who died on 2 July in a jade mine in Phakant, northern Myanmar, “were sacrificed on the altar of greed, by utter negligence and arrogance of companies that continue to dehumanize the poor of this land,” says Card Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, in a statement.
Last week, a landslide (pictured) buried hundreds of miners who were digging for bits of jade from the mounds of discarded earth excavated by heavy machinery. They were looking for jade, a precious stone, prized especially in China where until recently marriages were sealed with rings made of jade, not gold or silver.
According to Églises d’Asie, Myanmar provides upward to 70 per cent of the world supply of jade, mostly in the northern State of Kachin. Its purest form of jade is called jadeite or imperial jade, and is valued at US$ 20,000s per kilo, this according to Global Witness, an NGO.
According to a report released in 2015, the jade industry could generate US$ 31 billion a year for the Myanmar, the equivalent of 40 per cent of its GDP, but it remains largely outside of the state’s fiscal reach.
According to the Centre for Economic and Social Development (CESD), a local think tank, and the International Growth Centre, jade mining is both large- and small-scale (artisanal).
“There’s two kinds of mining at Phakant,” writes analyst Richard Horsey on Twitter: “industrial mining at jaw-dropping scale and speed, that’s turned mountains into surreal moonscape. Why so fast? To get billions of $$ out of the ground while regulatory good times last”. The lack of regulations and speed result in an “environmental, safety catastrophe.”
The second kind comes from the tailings of industrial mining. After they are dumped, they form unstable mounds. Dozens of illegal miners await the unloading of trucks to get to them to recover bits of wealth. Some 400,000 illegal workers are involved in this end of the business, earning on average US$ 260 a month, twice the minimum wage in Myanmar.
Almost all the jade produced in Myanmar is smuggled into China. Armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Army, and the Myanmar military itself, are involved with trafficking and illegal workers.
The Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE), a state-owned venture controlled by the Myanmar military and former officers, is in charge of jade production and sales.
Reacting to the tragedy, Myanmar’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation U Ohn Win announced compensation for the families of the dead (US$ 360 per victim); however, he also blamed “greedy” illegal miners for the disaster.
By contrast, Card Bo questioned the notion of "greed". In his statement last Sunday, he noted that “Those who died were not only buried under a landslide of the mountain but [also] by the landslide of injustice.”
Following Pope Francis, who “raised his voice against the never-ending tsunami of economic and environmental injustice against the poor all over the world,” the cardinal explained that the victims “were sacrificed on the altar of greed” because of the “ utter negligence and arrogance of companies that continue to dehumanize” the country’s poor.
Now, as the focus turns to the civilian government, the latter remains substantially powerless towards the other stakeholders involved, including the armed ethnic militias and the military itself.
For Card Bo, poverty cannot be banned out of existence, but needs “compassion and justice". “In these tragic times of COVID lockdown there cannot be a lockdown of the fire of hunger”. The latter has been forced on the poor who “seek the crumbs of jade that fall from mega companies' bulldozers. Millions of our country men have lost livelihood to the COVID pandemic.
“This mine tragedy is a grim reminder of the need for sharing God-given natural treasures. The treasures of Myanmar belong to the people of Myanmar.”
Sadly, “This is not the first time of this merciless tragedy and if the relevant stakeholders do not respond with compassion and justice, this will not be the last time of this inhuman tragedy.”