By Francis Wade
Burma’s biggest open-cast coal mine is polluting waterways and causing displacement of communities on an alarming scale, a new report warns.
The Tigyit mine close to Shan state’s Inle Lake produces some 2000 tonnes of lignite, often referred to as brown coal, each day. The Poison Clouds report by the Pa’O Youth Organisation (PYO) claims that it is damaging the health of locals there.
Problems with transporting lignite mean that it is often burned in power plants close to its source which produce much higher carbon dioxide emissions than black coal.
Images released by PYO show hazardous coal dumps forming veritable mountain ranges close to inhabited areas. The run-off from these can work its way into rivers that feed into Inle Lake, Burma’s second-largest, with knock-on effects for farmers and fisherman palpable.
“Dump piles from the mine are now towering above the homes of 3,000 people, blocking streams and contaminating fields,” a statement released with the report reads. “Dust and emissions, including from poisonous waste scattered on local roadways, is seriously degrading air quality. To date 50 percent of the local population is suffering from skin rashes.”
It adds that nearly 12,000 people living within a five-mile radius of Tigyit may be driven from their homes by pollution and expansion of the mine, which currently covers 500 acres.
Two nearby villages have already been relocated. The 321 inhabitants were paid compensation that amounted in total to $US6,280 – less than $US20 each.
Instead of the electricity being produced by the nearby plant going to local populations, the report claims it is channeled to another mining project run by Russian and Italian companies. “This follows the trend in Burma’s energy sector of exploiting natural resources not for the development of the country’s people but for sale to the highest bidders,” it says.
Burma currently has seven operational coal mines, although an additional 10 have been discovered. Only one coal plant processes the output at present, but six more are either planned or under construction.