EARTH Thailand

Burning coal chokes residents, pollutes river near Tanintharyi mine; government slow to respond

Myanmar Times 04 October 2017 | Myat Moe Aung    

Residents decried the slow action of authorities to address their concerns over a coal mine blamed as the cause of air and water pollution in their villages in Tanintharyi Region.

The aggrieved residents said that while the Ban Chaung Coal Mine, which was operated  by Thai and Myanmar companies, has stopped operations, the coal that left in the area continued to burn, emitting choking black smoke and also polluting the rivers.

“People are suffering from dizziness and vomiting because of the foul smell of the coal smoke,” said a member of the Ta Ka Paw Youth organization. 

“We have lost count on the number of the sick people.”

Local and international advocacy groups said in a joint statement last month that some 16,000 people living in 22 village in Ban Chaung area were adversely affected by the operations of the coal mine, which caused water and air pollution.

The statement said residents developed health problems and their farms were destroyed due to the pollution. 

The residents also accused the mine jointly operated by three Thai companies – Energy Earth PCL, East Star Company and Thai Asset Mining Company – and Myanmar-based May Flower Company, of encroaching on the residents’ farmlands.

The residents have filed a complaint to the Thailand Human Rights Commissions on June 21, but have not received any update from these offices.

“We didn’t hear further information from the Thai investigators. They told us they would contact,” Ma Naw Pi Tha Law, a resident of one of the affected villages and a member of the Tar Ka Paw Youth Association, told The Myanmar Times on Monday.  

Myanmar’s Department of Mines also has no plans to conduct immediate inspection on the Ban Chaung Coal Mine, according to the department’s deputy director general U Kyaw Thet.

“There is no plan to probe into Ban Chaung, at present,” he said.

“We have formed 12 teams in regions and states to ensure responsibility and accountability (among mines operating in the country),” he added. “These teams conduct inspection at 5 mines a month. So they will reach Ban Chaung in due time.”

U Kyaw Thet also took exception to the alleged impact of the mine in the environment and in residents in the area, noting the situation was not as bad as what the civil society claimed. 

“The residents thought coal would affect the environment. But it is not bad as expected. 

“The Tanintharyi region government is different from other state or regional governments. It relies on concrete facts,” he said.