Heinda Mine is a large old tin mine in the northern part of the Great Tenasserim River Basin in Tanintharyi Region (Division) of Myanmar. The mine is in the proximity of Myitta town and around 45 kilometres away from Dawei city. Current concession area of the tin mine covers around 5,000 rai or 2,097 acres of land. Around 2 kilometres downstream from the mining site located “Myaung Pyo” village which is the community most directly and adversely affected by the mining operation.

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Image of the mining site — Myaung Pyo villagers have reported adverse and continuous environmental and social impacts.

Myaung Pyo, the closest village to Heinda Mine, houses approximately 500 people or around 100 families. The main population here are of Tavoyan or Dawei ethnicity having their own language and cultural identities; Contrary to Myanmar official categorisation, villagers here do not identify themselves as a subgroup of Burmese.

Livelihoods of most locals engage in agricultural cultivation e.g. plantation of durian, betel nut tree, coconut, cashew, and rubber tree; Some people engage in vegetable gardening for selling. Additionally, some families also practice ore-panning for supplementing income — manually using a pan to extract lead (and other heavy minerals) from the Tenasserim River. Villagers, around 40-50 people mostly women, have engaged in this activities for decades, panning for heavy minerals from placer deposits from the Heinda Mine. Additionally, many men in the village have been seeking jobs in Thailand.

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Lush rows of betel nut trees (Areca palms) on a hill near the village. Betel nuts is one of the main agricultural products contributing to the local economy.

Myaung Pyo village hosts a creek with the same name, Myaung Pyo creek, which runs into the Tenasserim river. The creek has been the main source of water for domestic use and consumption by communities in the region especially the Tavoyan people. Moreover, Myaung Pyo creek does not only run through Myaung Pyo village, it also runs through at least 30 more villages before joining the Tenasserim river and finally flowing into the Andaman Sea.

Originally, Myaung Pyo village was located where it is now part of the area granted mining concession; In 1983, the whole village was forced-relocated by Burmese military forces to the current location which is only 2 kilometres away from the mining operation. Land for the resettled village was provided by the Burmese junta government for housing and making a living (e.g. farming, plantation) which covers in total 200 acres or 506 rai, smaller than the original village. In the forced-resettlement process, none of the villagers was compensated for their loss of land nor remediation e.g. payment for reconstruction of houses and preparation of new land for agricultural cultivation. Moreover, no official account of the village’s resettlement was documented by the government — only an engraved date on the village’s pagoda could probably indicate the time around which the village was resettled. On the other hand, villagers of Myaung Pyo reportedly faced no impact relative to the mine before the resettlement even though the village’s original location was closer to the mine than the current location.

 

Project information and implementation of Heinda Mine by Myanmar Pongpipat Company (MPC)

Heinda Mine has history dated back more than 70 years ago since the British colonial time. It is considered one of the oldest and now largest mine currently operating in Myanmar; The small tin mine has expanded into a large mining operation using more modern technologies today. Under Burmese military rule, Heinda Mine has been operated by a state-owned enterprise “Mining Enterprise No.2”.

In 1999, Myanmar Pongpipat Company Limited (MPC) which is a Thai registered company was granted concessions from Myanmar government to operate several mines in Myanmar to extract tin, tungsten, titanium and platinum. MPC’s concession for Heinda Mine was granted under a production-sharing contract with Mining Enterprise No.2; the product-sharing ratio is 65% for MPC and 35% for Mining Enterprise No.2.

Since June 2016, Heinda Mine operation license has been suspended. U Myint Maung, Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation for Taninthayi Region (the regional government) has said that:

“The company failed to keep the terms of its contract, violated Myanmar’s mining law, damaged the environment by releasing toxins and pollution into water sources and farmlands. The Regional Government is withholding the permit until the company can prove that it is following the law.”

 

Environment Problems, Communities and Human Rights Violations

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Groundwater well no longer fit for consumption because it is full of red residues suspected contamination from mining waste

In 2008, after a heavy rain, wastewater from the mine began to overflow into water sources used by communities for domestic uses and consumption. Toxic sediment accumulated on the land and inundated some areas, including Myaung Pyo village which was the worst affected, causing grave damages to the local environment. Houses and agricultural plantations were destroyed and water sources contaminated with toxins. The polluted water is wastewater from the mine’s 3 tailing ponds which had become so filled with slag and overburden that they could no longer contain more waste and wastewater therefore causing overflows in the rainy season especially after heavy rainfalls. Subsequently, in 2012, a big flood incidence resulted in damages of 27 families and their agricultural lands including plantations of betel nut trees, durianห, cashews and other crops being cultivated for communities’ consumption and for sale; around 20 acres or 50.6 rai were severely damaged in the incidence.

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Dead betel nut trees — villagers said that the accumulated sediment and the contaminated land and water sources after big floods were the cause of low-productivity/non-yielding betel nut trees, many trees had died standing and villagers lost a lot of income.

During a field visit in February 2017, villagers raised concerns that their betel nut trees have become unproductive, some tress had become shorter, and some had died standing; villagers are losing incomes and their lands’ fertility are deteriorating. Moreover, Myaung Pyo creek has been severely damaged. At some point, the waterway had actually disappeared due to deposit of sediments and slags transported from upstream. Consequently, communities can no longer use water from the creek; they have to bring water from the mountain or use groundwater. But many family also cannot use groundwater anymore because their wells are contaminated — some groundwater wells are reported to turn muddy red or orange with red silt deposit. Some families who were using the water for shower/bath had experienced skin allergic reactions (rash and itch) therefore most villagers stop using the groundwater. Having to bring water for domestic use from the mountain and buy drinking water from outside sources have significantly increased the villagers’ daily costs of living.

Villagers also reported that, in rainy seasons, the water (from Myaung Pyo creek) would turn dark-red or blackish and greasy; in dry seasons, the water would turn bright-orange with pungent odours. A test by Ecolab company in 2014 found high level of lead contamination in the Myaung Pyo creek. Another test by a laboratory in the Netherlands found arsenic concentration in the water to be 8 times of WHO’s provisional guideline value for safe drinking-water and found lead contamination in the creek water to be 35 to 190 times of the WHO’s suggested value for safe drinking-water.

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“Myaung Pyo creek” the most important water source for the village has disappeared; Mining residues piling up and wastewater contaminating the water; Community can no longer use the creek.

In terms of the rights to good health, Myaung Pyo villagers had reported to local CSOs about the poignant odours and changing colours of their water supply resulting in allergic skin reactions after using the polluted water. Afterward, Ecolab and CSOs, e.g. Dawei Development Association (DDA), suggested the villagers to stop using the water for both consumption and other domestic-uses particularly because the water is found to be contaminated with arsenic and lead which could cause significant health problems such as rash, headache, gastric and digestive problems, etc.

In terms of the rights to livelihoods, the mining operations have affected communities’ agricultural and residential lands: Mining residues (silt and sediment) accumulate in water sources and on soil; Floods and overflows inundate plantations and crops; Vast areas of land are destroyed so much so that crops cannot be cultivated; Betel nut trees, the main cash crops for the communities, are severely affected by the sediment causing rotten roots, death of the trees, and infertility. Because of the disruptive impacts on their land and crops, many villagers especially young people have to migrate to find jobs, particularly labour jobs in Thailand; Additionally, many children have to end their education and turn to work in order to help their families to earn enough for a living.

 

Roles of the Company in Resolving Problems and Remediation Measures

Until now, villagers have not been justly remediated regarding environmental impacts and human rights violations. Both the Thai company and Myanmar government agency have tried to claim that Myaung Pyo village was an illegal settlement because its location is in the boundary of the mine’s concession area. This is a problem relating to ambiguity of concession demarcation which has caused disputes over genuine boundary of the concession area. Consequently, the company has claimed that it cannot be held accountable to pay for compensation regarding damages to the village. However, after a big flood disaster in 2012 when wastewater and sludge from mining operations have overflown into community’s lands, subsequently damaged Myaung Pyo village expansively — the company was under the pressure to offer some compensations to the villagers. Nonetheless, the offered compensation rates were so low and inadequate; calculation and valuation of the compensation only took into account damages resulted from flood disaster; It does not cover the many damages already occurred before this incidence, particularly damages from pollution and toxic contaminations. With this in mind, Myaung Pyo villagers resolved not to take the proposed compensation.

Furthermore, consider how the company had managed the repeated environmentally catastrophic incidences, it is evident that MPC does not have effective Environmental Management Plan. There was no functioning wastewater treatment and waste disposal measures. Villagers had reported they often found the company’s employees discharging contaminated wastewater full of sediment from the mine’s sedimentation or tailing ponds into Myaung Pyo creek during the night to avoid being seen.

 

Struggles of the Community

Countless disastrous incidences resulting from the company’s constant negligence of laws, i.e. unlawful activities and below-standard operations, have pushed Myaung Pyo villagers to challenge the mine in a local court. In May 2014, representatives of the communities who are affected by Heinda Mine operation filed a civil suit at Dawei District Court against Myanmar Pongpipat Company Limited and Mining Enterprise No.2; they demanded compensation and redress for damages on their properties and environmental destruction caused by the mine’s activities. Dawei Lawyer Group (DLG) represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. However, the Myanmar’s Union Supreme Court dismissed the case on 17 June 2016, ruling that the case should have been filed within 1 year of the damage (which was August 2012). Subsequently, on 30 September 2016, the plaintiffs file an appeal at the “Special Appeals Bench” of the Union Supreme Court arguing that the time limitation does not apply as the harm is continuous — result of the appeal is still pending.

Apart from fighting in court, Myaung Pyo community also filed a complaint before the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) in 2015 under Complaint No. 285/2558 “Subject: Request Investigation on Human Rights Violations Regarding Community Rights in a Case Which Myanmar Citizens are Affected by Actions of a Thai Mining Company”. The NHRCT Sub-committee on Community Rights and Natural Resources had accepted the complaint and began investigation with an informal visit to Heinda Mine between 22-27 February 2017 — the investigation is currently ongoing. Relatively, the community also discusses opportunity to file a complaint before the Human Rights Commission of Myanmar to request another investigation from their side.

 

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References

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