Mining operations are polluting forests and farmlands in Shan State in Myanmar. Ah Moe Ah Moe writes about the impacts on lives and livelihoods from mining faced by the ethnic Danu people living in the area.
“Long ago, we had many farmlands to cultivate. We used to live with the resources from the forests and rivers” said a Danu community leader in Ye-Ngan Township, Southern Shan State. “But nowadays, even the water from our village is not pure to drink. We are suffering health impacts from the poisoning of our land and rivers by the mining companies.”
The Danu leader was talking about the two Chinese mining companies that started mining operations in 2010.
“Over the last ten years, these companies have destroyed the ethnic Danu people’s forests, rivers and also culture. I regret that I could not do more to stop these companies,” he said.
Danu ethnic communities
The Danu region, located in Southern Shan State in Myanmar is composed of many ethnic communities. Apart from Danu, others include ethnic Taungyoe, Shan, Paoh, and Ta-Ang (Palaung). These ethnic settlements have existed for hundreds of years in this region. Agriculture is the main occupation and the communities cultivate many kinds of plant and crops including oranges, tea, coffee, avocado and orchids. Although mostly subsistent-oriented, the local communities make some cash income by selling non-timber forest products such as bee honey, flowers, different kinds of mushrooms and herbs.
Impacts from mining company
The Danu region has many valuable natural resources such as lead, gold, and coal. This has attracted a number of mining companies that often operate without environmental safeguards. When the mining companies come to the village, they talk of creating jobs and how the village situation can be improved. But not all the villagers are consulted. The companies get a few village people to make agreements on behalf of the entire village to start mining operations. Once the mining operations run into problems or resistance from the village, the company changes its name and moves to another location.
The mining companies usually begin by digging up the land for infrastructure. Many villagers have lost their farmlands as they are taken over by the mining operations. The land is taken easily since most ethnic communities do not have formal land ownership documents as the land is usually passed down from their parents and grandparents.
Most Danu ethnic people have very little knowledge of how to get legal land ownership documents. In one case, the company filled a villager’s land with gravel and rocks from the mining operations. When the villager tried to clear his land, the company filed a case against the villager for encroachment on company property. The villager was sent to jail, and now his family is struggling to make a livelihood.
Health and security
The arrival of many migrant workers into the village area has resulted in rapes and abductions of the women in the village. In one case, an 18-year old girl was travelling to the town to sell fruits. She was abducted and raped by a migrant worker who offered her a ride in his motorcycle to the town. Her family took her to the hospital in Mandalay but it was in vain, and she passed away.
The mining operations usually involve purification plants to separate the minerals from the soil. During the rainy season, wastewater from these plants seeps into, and contaminates, the community’s groundwater, wells and farmlands. Both people and livestock are affected. The smoke from these plans affects elderly people. Many cows and buffaloes have died from drinking the poisoned water.
Fighting against the impacts of mining
The Ethnic Danu people are trying to raise awareness in their community about the impacts of the mining operations. They are also trying to reach out to the government as well as environmental and other groups in Shan State and beyond to help protect the health, livelihoods, farmlands and the safety of the ethnic Danu people