Oct 30, 2011

Gold mining on rivers in Myanmar

“The lifetime of gold mining permits is just one year. In the past, they could renew a permit. Now, gold mining permits cannot be renewed. So, it is not allowing gold mining [in the future’],” an official from Mining Enterprise No. 2 said.

In the past, the government allowed three types of gold mining along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers: small-scale, medium-scale and large-scale.

In September, Mining Enterprise No. 2 announced that it would not allow large-scale gold mining in the rivers, streams and creeks of Myanmar. But, traditional small-scale panning for gold would still be allowed.

“We cannot forbid people who have to rely on traditional panning for gold from doing it. As usual, there will still be people who pan for gold by using pans and sieves, but they cannot harm the river,” an official from DWRIRS told Mizzima on condition of anonymity. The government banned gold mining to prevent rivers from being damaged, according to officials.

Most of the companies along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers operate gold mines using machinery, and their practices can cause water pollution and harm the environment.

Small-scale gold miners pay 260,000 (about US$ 360) kyat per year; medium-scale gold miner pay 35 per cent of the gold discovered; and large-scale gold miners pay 50 per cent of the gold discovered as taxes to government, an official from the Ministry of Mines said on condition of anonymity.

According to environmental NGOs and other groups, in 1997, Myanmar government began giving gold mining concessions to Myanmar businessmen. Land was often confiscated and villagers were denied access to upland farms. Many villagers had no alternative source of livelihood so they formed small groups and sold their land to invest in machinery and obtained gold mining permits. Traditionally villagers depended on rivers and forestlands for their livelihoods and cultural practices. The local environment has been severely affected in many areas.

A report by the Myanmar Environmental Working Group in June 2011 said gold mining operations have drained water sources, increased soil erosion, and polluted rivers with mercury and other chemicals. Mercury is highly toxic to the environment and poses serious risks to public health. The vast majority of toxic wastes from gold extraction processes is disposed of untreated directly onto land and into waterways, effectively poisoning the soil and compromising water quality. Mercury and other toxics are biomagnifying in food chains and accumulate in the tissues of living organisms, with negative effects on flora and fauna, local biodiversity and human health.

Source: Mizzima