Global demand for rare earth elements fuels environmental destruction in Kachin State

Along a remote and mountainous stretch of border with China, something is disfiguring the pristine forests of Kachin State. Satellite images and photos seen by Frontier show that trees have been cleared and replaced by adjoining pools that contain a milky liquid. In some places, mountainsides near the pools are peppered with holes linked to networks of pipes above and below ground.

These scars on the landscape in eastern Kachin’s Chipwi Township, in an area under control of a Tatmadaw Border Guard Force and Tatmadaw-aligned militia led by Kachin warlord Zahkung Ting Ying, are evidence of illegal mining for rare earth elements. Multiple sources told Frontier and Danwatch, an independent investigative news outlet that partnered with Frontier for this piece, that the region accounts for nearly all of Myanmar’s rare earth mining. According to the United States Geological Survey data, Myanmar is now the world’s third-largest producer, based on official figures. 

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