In the war-torn Kachin state of Myanmar, the leaders of Myanmar's Christian churches are speaking out against the unregulated mining of rare earth elements. Those elements are widely used in producing high-tech devices such as smartphones, computers, electric vehicles, and solar cells.

Speaks Out Over Rare Earth Mining

According to the UCA News, following the military's overthrow of Myanmar's civilian government on Feb. 1, 2021, mining for rare earth has significantly risen in the mineral-rich northern Kachin state, which shares a border with the Yunnan province of China. Church leaders from the Banmaw diocese in Kachin state, located in an area where unregulated rare earth mining is in full swing by Chinese companies and others, expressed their concern about the effects of environmental degradation. Also, they raised concerns about the livelihoods of local communities and the well-being of animals due to the extraction of rare earth.

They stated in a letter sent out on Saturday, Mar. 4 and signed by Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam and four other diocese leaders, including the vicar general and the chancellor, that rare earth materials are a gift from God. As such, people have to conserve them. The request was made after members of the community in N' Bar Par and the adjacent villages in Mansi township, under the Banmaw diocese's jurisdiction, demonstrated against rare earth mining. The protesters demanded that Chinese companies and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which has been fighting for self-determination and autonomy for decades, put an end to the mining. They cited the adverse effects of mining on the environment, wildlife, and local communities.

Mongabay reported that the rapid spread of rare earth mining in northern Myanmar over the past few years is contributing to human rights abuses, causing forest destruction, and providing financial support to parties with ties to the military administration that overthrew the civilian government in February 2021. The number of rare earth mines in the Kachin state of Myanmar increased from a handful in 2016 to more than 2,700 mining collection pools dispersed across almost 300 locations by March 2022. An area equivalent in size to Singapore consists of forested hills that have been negatively affected by extensive mining.

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Rare Earth Mining Harms Myanmar's Ecology

A report from the Earth Journalism Network stated that the Chipwi Township in Kachin State, located in northern Myanmar, is well-known for its untouched forests and transparent water. However, local inhabitants began to become aware, perhaps ten years ago, of patches of land that had been cleared on the verdant mountains that surround their town, which is located on the border of the province of Yunnan in China. It reportedly began with a single plot of land, where all of the trees on that plot were felled.

As time went on, residents of the area watched as large pieces of equipment were transported through their town and on their way to the desolate parcels of land. Eventually, an influx of labourers began to arrive. They dug up the earth and left open pits, many of which were filled with water contaminated by chemicals, in regions previously containing a dense canopy of trees. The water in the area around those sites was no longer pure. At that point, it became abundantly clear that the newcomers were searching for something buried beneath the ground. They were looking for rare earth composed of elements widely utilized in high-tech products such as mobile phones, computer components, electric vehicles, and solar cells.

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