Hundreds of Mon State residents staged a protest this week demanding the immediate closure of what they claim is a deleterious rock quarry.
Locals from Oke Ta Daw Village in Paung township alleged that the quarrying is not only noisy, punctuating daily lives in the surrounding villages with regular explosions, but more problematically, it’s also allegedly damaged farmlands, orchards, streams, roads and drains.
“If the rock quarry is not shut down, we will start a protest camp in front of the rock mine. We will stage a sit-in and we won’t get up until this Long Life [rock quarry] is shut down. Everyone has agreed to it,” said U Tin Tun Naing, a local resident and protest leader.
He added that if the new, elected government is truly democratic, then it will listen and respond to such local concerns. However, previous attempts to get the past administration to intervene failed to elicit results, prompting an escalation of efforts to obtain authorities’ attention.
In August 2014, the residents submitted petitions with over 2,500 signatures to government departments. Another petition was submitted in December 2015, and a third was sent off in January 2016.
After their ink and paper entreaties went unanswered, the villagers began staging protests in June 2016.
“We have suffered a lot. That’s why we want this mine to be shut down,” said Daw Yee Chaw, who took part in the most recent protest.
She added that patches of forest where the villagers used to collect bamboo and firewood have been fenced off due to the mines.
Local residents say they were never consulted about the project, and would have rejected it for fear of the environmental impacts had it been proposed to them.
But the Long Life Aggregate Mining Company claims to have held a legal license to operate the quarry on 225 acres in the Kalama Mountain Forest Reserve since 2013. The company mines rocks for construction and road building.
Company officials said they have undertaken several projects for the betterment of the community, as well as steps to mitigate locals’ concerns about the affects of the mining.
“While there are people protesting against the company, there are also local residents who are cooperating with us for regional development,” said U Aung Thet Htay, the director of Long Life Aggregate Mining Company.
He added that following advice from the Forestry Department and the Environmental Conservation Department, the company has been building dikes to prevent sand and silt from choking nearby streams.
Long Life Aggregate Mining Company is one of nearly two dozen companies extracting rocks from Paung township. Environmental groups have raised concerns about how the operations could impact the underground water table and contribute to pollution of the drinking water.
National League for Democracy officials told Myanmar Now last year that they would survey the state’s mining activity, and were aware that some of it was causing negative social and environmental impacts. Residents are left to question what happened to those promises, and why the political impetus seems to have stalled 12 months later.