Image by Tar Yar Maung

Against all odds: tackling illegal mining in Myanmar

10 December 2019

When Crawford graduate Tar Yar Maung first heard about the scale of illegal mining activities in Myanmar and the lives lost in the mines, she knew she wanted to help bring about change in her home country. Coming to The Australian National University was her first and only choice to pursue her goal.

Having earned a competitive Australia Awards scholarship, Tar Yar was drawn to Crawford School due to its reputation as an outstanding place to study public policy.

“The Australia Awards scholarship covered me for everything – school fees, living costs, and extra tutorial fees,” she said.

“I was set on Crawford – it is so widely known for its policy program. You can select two preferences for universities in Australia, and I put ANU down twice.”

Tar Yar first became interested in issues around jade mining when news broke over the appalling working conditions people were facing in the mines, and the amount of revenue lost to the government.

“Social media, national and international media were increasingly reporting on the terrible fatal accidents in the mining areas.

“Especially during monsoon season, there are a lot of fatal accidents. Most mining activities were shut down during that time, but a few illegal companies continued their activities. There were two accidents within ten days when I was there, killing about 80 people. But no-one can actually be sure how many were killed, because some of the workers are there illegally.

“And then, Global Witness, a corruption investigation agency, reported that US $31bn in revenue were lost in 2014 alone, while the Myanmar Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (MEITI) reported only US$ 1.5 million in the same year. This money is desperately needed to improve the region’s infrastructure,” she said.

As part of doing the Master of Environmental Management and Development, Tar Yar decided to investigate Myanmar’s issues around jade mining. For her research, she went to her home country to do fieldwork and interview government officials on the federal and local level, NGOs, donor agencies, and illegal mine workers. Her investigations came with significant risks.

“I specifically talked to people from the MEITI project, which is the first-ever project that aims to include civil society in decision-making around mining and forestry. But progress has been slow-moving.

“It was dangerous to go to that region during the rainy season, threatening mudslides, and due to the fact that the mining area is mostly controlled by the military and local ethnic groups.”

She now wants to share her research with the MEITI project, and make recommendations on how the government could improve the country’s management of natural resources.

“The recommendations that have come out of my research are firstly to place a moratorium on all existing permits for jade extraction until the appropriate laws and safeguards are in place. The government already froze new and extended permits for all jade companies, but there are still active permits,” she said.

“Secondly, they need to consider natural resource management in the ongoing peace process.

“And lastly, Myanmar needs to re-negotiate terms of trade with China, which holds the biggest share of jade imports from Myanmar.”

Looking back at her time spent at Crawford, Tar Yar said that she was particularly impressed with the support that lecturers gave to her at all times, as she adjusted to the academic way of work in Australia.

“The academic work style here is very different from Myanmar. So, during my first semester, I felt quite lost. I had to get used to the teaching style here. So I met with course convenor a lot to talk through things. I don’t think you’d get this kind of support anywhere else.”

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Updated:  26 January 2021/Responsible Officer:  Crawford Engagement/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team