Myanmar bans mining on four major rivers
30 March 2012
Myanmar has banned mining of mineral resources along the country's four major river courses or near the river banks in a bid to preserve the natural environment, according to an order of the Ministry of Mines made public Thursday.
The four rivers are Irrawaddy, Thanlwin, Chindwin and Sittoung, the Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday. A detailed description of the ministry's order was not available.
Exploration and production of minerals along the river courses or closer than 90 meters to the riverbanks is prohibited, the order reportedly said.
The order said that the measure is aimed at promoting a clean environment on the four rivers to enable a smooth flow of river water and facilitate water transportation and tourism.
“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 Burma. But, traditional small-scale panning for gold would still be allowed, it said. It is not clear how the new Ministry of Mining law will affect small-scale prospectors.
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, say environmentalist.
According to environmental NGOs and other groups, the Burmese government began giving gold mining concessions to Burmese businessmen in 1997. 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 Burma 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 are 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.