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Mawchi miners warned of monsoon mudslides

Mawchi in the aftermath of a landslide in October 2015. (PHOTO: DVB)

Officials from the Mawchi tin mines in Karenni State have joined regional authorities in issuing warnings to miners and their families about the potential for landslides during this year’s monsoon season, which traditionally lasts between June and October.

The warnings come after mining operations were suspended last October for several months following a mudslide that killed at least 28 people in Mawchi, which was in the 1930s the main source of tungsten in the world.

Despite the precautionary announcements this year, fears remain that many miners will refuse to leave the “danger zones” because they cannot afford to give up their livelihoods.

Karenni State Planning and Finance Minister Maw Maw said he and other officials have repeatedly warned local miners and residents about the threat they face, and have pledged to provide assistance in relocating workers and their families to new homes.

“According to a geologist report, this area is prone to disaster when it endures heavy rains,” he told DVB on Wednesday. “We are considering options for providing these people with any assistance they require.”

The main operator at the Mawchi mines, Kayah State Mining Company, on Tuesday issued a warning to its workforce about the threat of landslides and mudslides close to the mine site. Kayah is the official name of Karenni State.

The “danger zone” is a residential area with around 1,000 households, mostly migrant labourers from elsewhere in Burma. The families were offered relocation to the nearby village of Alindan after last year’s deadly landslide, however almost every resident refused to budge, citing economic hardships and a fear of losing jobs if they moved to a village too far from the mine.

Minister Maw Maw said the authorities have prepared land plots for the residences to work on after relocation. However he conceded that many refuse to move because they have been working in the mining industry for many years.

“I understand they may be reluctant to move after living there [in Mawchi] for such a long time, and that they would prefer to stay regardless of the threat to their lives,” he said.

In 2012, a Karenni women’s group called for a halt to the expansion of tin mines in Mawchi, calling the enterprise an “environmental disaster”.