YANGON, Myanmar – An accident at a jade mine that killed at least 172 people in a remote part of northern Myanmar is a sign of rampant unemployment and poverty in the country, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Friday.
In its latest update, the Myanmar Fire Services Department reported 172 dead and more than 50 injured after Thursday’s landslide at a mine in Hpakant, a remote town in Kachin state, which caught out a group of informal miners.
In a statement, Suu Kyi blamed the “tragedy” on the rampant unemployment and job insecurity in the country.
“It’s related to ordinary people’s livelihoods. Most of those working at the mine are part of the subsistence economy. Among those killed are many illegal scavengers, which shows we have to amidst that it’s very difficult to find proper, legal jobs,” the State Counsellor said.
The search and rescue operation, involving dozens of troops, has been complicated by harsh weather conditions and the risk of further landslides.
One of the police officers in charge of security at the site told EFE on Friday that for safety reasons, work will stop if it starts to rain heavily.
One of the walls of the mine is the main point of concern for rescuers since there is a risk that it will collapse and cause further tragedy.
Members of the emergency teams indicated to EFE that they believe that there are more bodies trapped under the soil and floating in the water to be recovered.
The incident occurred when miners were collecting jade from the excavated slopes in five abandoned sites, where informal miners generally work in highly precarious conditions.
Accidents at jade mines are a common occurrence in Myanmar.
In April, at least 54 people died in another landslide at a mine in Hpakant, which is located about 800 kilometers (497 miles) north of the capital city of Naypyidaw.
The non-profit Global Witness denounced in 2015 the precarious situation in which jade miners work in sites that are often exploited by guerrilla organizations, warlords, drug traffickers and corrupt members of the army, among other groups.
Myanmar is the world’s largest producer of jadeite, a highly prized variety extracted mainly in the mountains of Kachin state.
Tens of thousands of Myanmar youth come to Hpakant, the so-called “Land of Jade,” with the hope of escaping poverty and making money through jade mining.
But many of these migrant workers instead become addicted to cheap heroin, methamphetamines and other drugs that are produced on a massive industrial scale in the region.
Rights groups have said that workers are sometimes paid in drugs rather than in money.
Although the Hpakant area is a harsh and poor region, it generates vast amounts of wealth for some, as buried within its soil are significant deposits of the rare mineral jadeite, the world’s highest-quality type of jade.