London, June 6 – The landslide at a rare earth mine in Myanmar that has killed at least five people, with 20 missing according to local media reports, underlines the disastrous consequences of unregulated mining in the country, as identified last month in a Global Witness investigation.

Catriona Rainsford, investigator at Global Witness said:

The devastating mine collapse in Kachin state is all the more tragic because the risks were known, and they are preventable.

These landslides are made more common because the acid pumped into the mountains during the mining process severely weakens the soil, and the cost is paid in human lives.

It is a stark reminder that communities in Myanmar and their lands are increasingly being sacrificed to meet the world’s hunger for heavy rare earths.”

Two weeks ago, Global Witness published an investigation into the boom in heavy rare earth mining in Myanmar, which found that:

  • Much of Myanmar’s heavy rare earth output is used to manufacture permanent magnets, which are in demand from a range of US, European and Asian electric vehicle and wind turbine brands.
  • Imports of heavy rare earths from Myanmar to China - where they are processed - have more than doubled in the space of two years. From their previous high of 19,500 tons of heavy rare earth oxides in 2021, imports reached 41,700 tonnes in 2023. 
  • In Kachin Special Region 1, controlled by militias aligned with Myanmar’s brutal military rulers, the number of mining sites has increased by more than 40%.
  • Mine workers and local community members have reported and documented numerous health issues attributed to chemicals used in rare earth mining.
  • Water sampling data revealed that streams in Kachin Special Region 1 where mining takes place, are highly acidic and contain elevated levels of arsenic. Pollution is threatening to lay waste to a region regarded as a global biodiversity hotspot.
  • Myanmar’s lucrative trade in heavy rare earths is worth $1.4 billion in 2023 and risks financing conflict and destruction in a highly volatile region. Since the military coup in 2021, extraction has continued in the context of a ruthless dictatorship and widening civil conflict.