More than 50 people are missing and feared dead after a mudslide buried workers at a jade mine in Myanmar’s Kachin State, according to reports.
The state-run Myanmar News Agency reported that the slide was caused after a lake collapse in the city of Hpakant in the early hours Tuesday.
Three people have been confirmed killed and 51 are believed to be trapped by a “mud lake” created by the landslide, Myanmar news agency reported.
“Finding bodies is proving difficult. About 60 volunteers from our philanthropic association are participating in the search for bodies,” said U Khin Maung, chairman of a local philanthropic organization, according to Burmese state media.
Jade is believed to be one of Myanmar’s most profitable exports and worth billions of dollars, fueled in large part by demand in neighboring China.
Global Witness, a nonprofit dedicated to investigating corruption and environmental abuse, estimated the jade industry was worth about $31 billion in 2014, nearly half of the country’s official GDP that year.
Exact numbers are unknown as the industry is highly unregulated, but the Natural Resource Governance Institute, an advocacy group, ranked Myanmar’s gemstone sector one of the most opaque in the world.
The industry has long been plagued by allegations of corruption and wrongdoing, with profits flowing to armed groups and political elites without being taxed and helping to fuel the long-running conflict in the country’s north.
Some of the mines are run by armed groups fighting the Burmese central government and local drug lords, according to international observers, though many exist in areas controlled by Burmese authorities. The World Bank estimated in 2017 that 60% to 80% of gemstones produced in Myanmar are exported without being taxed.
The US State Department alleged in a 2018 report that the gem mining industry in Kachin state employs forced laborers.