Mining investment provides Burma's military regime with its largest source of legal income and Canadian mining companies are in the thick of it. The Canadian mining company Ivanhoe Mines, which is in a 50/50 joint venture with Burma's ruling junta, operates the biggest foreign mining venture in Burma. In addition, there are about four or five other Canadian junior mining companies doing business in Burma, all of whom inevitably support the regime through their business there. (Click here for list)
CFOB is particularly concerned about the Ivanhoe Mines project called the Monywa Copper Mine. Monywa (pronouned Mo-yu-ah) is a city located in Sagaing Division in the North-West part of Central Burma close to the mine site. Environmental damage is often an outcome of copper mining and the Monywa project is no exception.
The Monywa project is an open pit mine, which is the most destructive form of mining. It involves clearing standing vegetation and forests, diverting drainage systems, destabilizing topography which causes mountain collapse, and affecting water tables, loss of topsoil, drainage patterns (irrigation, aquamarine life, etc...). Moreover, once an open pit mine is dug, the area cannot be restored for future use. Ivanhoe Mines conducted their own environmental assessment of the Monywa mine (link)
Right now copper prices are extremely low, and the only way the mine could generate profits is by severely undercutting the cost of production -- namely through open pit mining, which is the cheapest form of production. But undoubtably this will involve other 'short cuts' such as bypassing labour rights, which are non-existant in Burma. Therefore, it is not surprising to read on the Ivanhoe website that the Monywa Copper mine is "one of the world's lowest cost mines", and one of the largest.
The following evidence is testimony from a Burmese in exile whose family lives in the area near the Monywa mine. He last visited the area in 1996 and saw much of the evidence reported below. Since that time, he has received letters from his family confirming the following testimony.
The Chindwin River is a major river in the Northwest, Saing and Mague division. The Chindwin combines with Irrawaddy river. A small stream called Yama Chaung flows into the Chindwin, near Kyawk Myint village. Monywa has eight townships.
The villages in the area:
Kyawk Myint, Kan Kon Gyi, Don Daw, Gon Taw, Ywa Tha, Htan Daw Gyi, Phong Kar, Tei Bin Gan
The mine has affected four or five villages so far by polluting them with "concentrate". Concentrate is the name the people give this waste that comes from the copper mine. The villages on the West side of Chindwin river are the most affected by the pollution because the trucks carrying the concentrate go back and forth on the ferry by the river and so leakage goes into the water, while on the East side, the concentrate is transported by train.
The area smells like toilet bowl cleaner, especially like Phenol. The concentrate has made the ground black in the area surrounding the Mining Enterprise No.1 Copper Project and the destroyed farmland is a green/blue colour. The farmers's used to grow crops such as garlic, groundnut, onion, wheat, rice and palm.
The government has dug a tunnel from the mining site to the Yama Chaung river for the waste to pass through into the Chindwin river. To make a living, since many of their farms have been destroyed, the villagers have been taking the dirty waste water and boiling it to produce copper and blue vitriol which they can in turn sell on the market.
The copper comes from a small mountain called Sabei mountain. The farmers at the base of the mountain have been forced off their land to make way for the copper mining. The villages at the bottom of the mountain are: Don Taw, Ywa Tha and Gon Taw.
The people are dependent for their water on the wells. More and more people are developing skin irritations which form round patches on the skin. Because the people are unaware of the dangers, they do not hesitate to touch the waste while carrying out their daily activities.
Be Sure to CC' a copy of your letter to:
The Honourable Maxime Bernier
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
phone: (613) 995-8872