Jade, a green stone, is believed to symbolize prosperity. Used in the making of art objects and jewelry, especially in China, it would also have therapeutic properties, especially soothing, used in lithotherapy, this ancestral medicine focused on the power of stones.
In Burma, jade – not just any: kosmochlor, also called imperial jade – is more like death. And if the Chinese call it “stone of paradise”, it is, for the miners who have to extract it, synonymous with hell.
The landslide in a mine, which killed more than a hundred people on Thursday, July 2, is not the first drama to hit the country, the world‘s leading producer of jade.
Already last year, a mudslide claimed the lives of fifty people. Five years ago, a landslide had caused a hundred deaths.
To extract this precious stone, overexploited workers risk their lives every year. They are paid a mouthful of bread, work under the threat of landslides or landslides, which are frequent during the rainy season.
“They work in appalling conditions, without any status, and live on the site in makeshift shelters, lamented in 2019 Sophie Brondel, coordinator of Info Burma, in La Croix. The sector is so opaque that we cannot have precise data on their daily wages, or on the extent of their working hours. “
Abandoned mines clandestinely operated
In the Hpakant mining area, where the landslide mine is located, jade mining has long been completely anarchic. When he came to power in 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi launched a moratorium on new mining licenses.
Companies now have to comply with environmental regulations that are supposed to be more stringent in order to obtain the exploitation right and cannot dig areas larger than two hectares. In December 2018, a new transparency law was also adopted.
As a result, many large mines have closed and the sites are no longer monitored, allowing the return of many independent miners. Coming from disadvantaged ethnic communities, they operate almost clandestinely in the old abandoned sites.
In March 2019, a UN report on the human rights situation in Burma estimated 400,000 illegal workers working in jade mines.
At the heart of the financing of the civil war
Above all, the exploitation of jade mines, and these lucrative revenues, are at the heart of the civil war which has been stirring in Burma for several decades. They help finance both the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) insurgents and the Burmese military.
“The trade is controlled by military elites, local drug lords and government crony societies, deplores the NGO Global Witness. These networks generate huge profits while the local populations suffer terrible abuses. “
The sums drawn from the exploitation of jade mines make you dizzy. In 2015, the NGO had, in a report, estimated that Burma had sold the equivalent of 27.5 billion euros of jade during the previous year. A figure ten times higher than that communicated by the authorities. Money that never reaches local people.
An ecological disaster
Landslides and other landslides are also the result of overuse of mines in the Kachin state. “The landscape is literally being turned around. The locals say that the mountains become valleys and that the valleys become mountains “, Mike Davis, Asia specialist for Global Witness, explained to Vice in 2015.
Jade but also precious wood, gold and amber … Natural resources abound in northern Burma. Mining activities also cause floods and divert rivers in the region.
Local people do not see the color of the money that these resources generate, and also pay a heavy human price. No, in Burma, jade is really not a symbol of prosperity.