Myanmar’s environment hit by rare earth mining boom

Kachin State’s Chipwi Township in northernmost Myanmar is known for its pristine forests and crystal-clear water.

But 10 years ago, local residents started noticing the patches of land that had been cleared on the lush mountains surrounding their town, which borders China’s Yunnan province. It started with one patch of land, where all the trees were cut down. Then others followed.

Soon locals saw heavy machinery being moved through their town, heading to those barren plots of land. Then workers started flooding in. They excavated the ground and left open pits, many filled with chemically-laced water, in areas once rich in woodland. The water near those sites was no longer clean.

It became obvious at that stage that the newcomers were looking for something underneath the ground – rare earth, which contains elements widely used in high-tech products like smartphones, computer components, electric vehicles and solar cells.  

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Maran Htoi Awng