11/05/2011, 00.00
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Bhamo: mining poisons the population

The frenetic search for gold without rules, along the river Kachin releases mercury and arsenic into water. The people denounce mass fish death and toxicity of the river. Ecosystem along the Irrawaddy at risk. Environmental group charges: work on Myistone dam never halted.
Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The environmental damage caused by intensive mining along the Irrawaddy River in Kachin territory - in northern Myanmar – is jeopardizing the health of local residents, particularly in the town of Bhamo. The Burmese authorities allow mining activity "without limits and rules", which is likely to endanger the delicate ecosystem of a region already marked by the construction of the gigantic Myitsone dam. Officially, work was halted on September 30, following the decision of President Thein Sein, however, activist groups complain that there is "no evidence" that "the dam project has been really suspended."

The subsoil of Myanmar is rich in minerals, gems and fuel, the exploitation of which attracts the interest of Burmese companies and foreign multinationals. In the Kachin territory, along the Irrawaddy River, the real backbone of the country, there are large deposits of gold and precious minerals. However, high amounts of mercury and cyanide used for the extraction end up polluting the water. Added to this is the oil and gasoline of more than 300 boats that travel along its course, day and night, causing huge environmental damage, especially in the town of Bhamo.

A resident denounces that "there are no more fish in the river" and, considering that "most people drink directly from the river", cases of "sickness that give rise to phenomena of nausea and vomiting” occur with increasing frequency. Moreover the breaking of the levees has resulted in a "dark complexion" of the waters of the river, which certainly is no comfort to the population. "There are no more dolphins - adds another citizen - and increasing cases of mass fish deaths".

Meanwhile, the Myitsone dam is once again the center of the debate in Myanmar: five days after the presidential decree which imposed a halt to the work - September 30 last - local authorities ordered the evacuation of some villages in the area to allow the extraction work of a mining company linked to the central government. The Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) has obtained an official order from the authorities Myitkina, dated October 5, that intimates that the evacuation of the village of Tang Hpre within five days, otherwise "there will be stiff penalties in accordance with the laws" . The KDNG activists also claim work is continuing on the dam, in fact it "has never stopped."
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