Residents in the northern Shan State Township of Hsipaw have been struck by respiratory ailments and other health issues, including 10 cases of tuberculosis (TB).
Many attribute the crisis to the Nam Ma coal mine, which, they say, has created severe air pollution over the past few years, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF).
Local villagers have raised concerns that the recent increase in TB cases is directly linked to years of breathing in dust and other pollutants from the mine, as well as a longstanding lack of accessible health care and disease control programs in the area, the report says.
“Ten villagers [eight men and two women] from five villages have been diagnosed as suffering from TB by Hsipaw Hospital, almost all since 2015,” SHRF reported. “Half of the patients live in Na Koon village, next to the Na Koon coal mine, where digging has taken place since 2004 and expanded significantly since 2014.”
A 70-year-old patient from Na Koon village explained to SHRF that he was diagnosed with TB in June 2015. His illness has caused a great financial burden, he said, as he works as a farmer, growing corn and cassia. He claimed that before becoming ill, his annual income from farming was 300,000 kyat (US$220), but due to ill health, he now earns only about 50,000 kyat a year.
“I have a corn farm about two acres in size, about 130 meters from the Na Koon coal mining site,” he told SHRF. “Whenever I go to work at my farm, there is an awful smell from there. I can’t even eat my meal there due to the awful smell.”
Operations at the large-scale coal mine are contracted to Ngwe Yi Pale Co. Ltd, a subsidiary of the Ngwe Yi Pale group. The corporation is also one of the biggest manufacturers of sugar and cement in Burma. It oversees three mining sites in Shan State: Na Koon; Pieng Hsai and Parng Nga, all of which are in Hsipaw Township.
Protests by locals forced the closure of the Pieng Hsai mine in 2015. But operations continue unabated at the remaining two sites.
On June 29, Shan Herald reported that more than 600 people in Nam Ma area staged a protest against the Ngwe Yi Pale firm, demanding a suspension of mining operations in the area.
“We want the company executives to understand the difficulties villagers are facing and cease their operations,” said Sai Hor Hseng, a spokesperson for SHRF, speaking to Shan Herald on Tuesday. “We also urged the villagers to be aware of what is going to happen in their community. If they know in advance, they can come together to protest against it.
“The government has a responsibility to take care of its people because it was these people who elected it to represent them. Now people are suffering; the government must step in and solve these problems.”
He added: “The government must suspend all mining activities in the country. Now is not the right time for these kinds of operations.”
Some 1,500 people live in seven villages in Nam Ma tract, and almost all rely on farming as their main livelihood. Apart from air pollution, SHRF said, the local coal mine has had myriad negative effects on the local population, including losses of agricultural lands; the obstruction and contamination of water sources; and road accidents involving coal trucks.
By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)