Frantic search in Myanmar as deadly landslide at jade mine leaves dozens still missing

Frantic search in Myanmar after deadly landslide at jade mine

Local people who traditionally made their living from jade have been systematically squeezed out by government-licensed concessionaires. Some make a living picking for pieces of jade in waste dumped by the companies. CREDIT: Minzayar (Image courtesy of Global Witness)

The death toll from a landslide near a jade mine in northern Myanmar has surpassed 100, local authorities said Monday, and there are fears that the number will increase further as rescue teams dig through a mountain of displaced earth.

The tragic event, which happened Saturday, buried at least 120 people in the Kachin State area of Hpakant, a mountainous area of northern Myanmar that is home to the world’s most valuable jade.

As of Monday morning, 105 bodies had been recovered, but it is estimated that there are more than 100 people still missing, BBC News reports.

Deadly accidents are, unfortunately, very common in Myanmar's jade mines. People work under extremely dangerous conditions, particularly those who pick through churned up material from large-scale machinery on unstable hillsides.

In January, at least four died in the mining town of Phakant after heavy rains loosened a heap of debris next to a jade mine in the area. Three months later, a landslide in a mine controlled by the former general secretary of the country's ruling party, U Maung Maung Thein, killed an estimated 30 to 60 people.

The industry generated an estimated $31 billion last year, with most of the wealth going to individuals and companies tied to Myanmar’s former military rulers, according to Global Witness, an advocacy group focused on natural resources.

But mining of the greenstone remains a key driver of conflict between the government and ethnic Kachin rebels, funding both sides in a war that has killed thousands and displaced around 100,000 since 2011.

Most of the jade extracted in Myanmar, which remains under U.S. sanctions, is smuggled into China, where the "stone of heaven" is considered a symbol of virtue and power, and it is believed to ward off evil spirits and improve health.