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The human side of Yunnan gold mining

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The Beiya mine in northwest Yunnan is the largest open pit gold mine in the province. It has proven reserves of 151 tons of gold and new discoveries have been made as recently as 2011. The mine has been repeatedly accused of polluting ground water supplies and intimidating locals.

The story of a small town near the mine published by Yunnan Info Daily highlights some of the problems Yunnan is experiencing as it tries to cash in on skyrocketing gold prices.

The Beiya gold mine is located adjacent to Beiya village (北衙村), midway between Dali and Lijiang. The town is home to 2,500 people who largely make their living growing rice and millet.

Villagers have been alarmed for several years as cases of lead poisoning they blame on the mine have increased — especially in children. Affected people suffer from respiratory ailments and blood poisoning.

Villagers blame mine-owned cyanide pools built near the town for contaminating local ground water used for domestic and agricultural consumption. Sodium cyanide is often used in gold mining to extract ore from finely ground rock.

Exacerbating lead concerns, several local men have been killed in landslides caused by exploratory blasting within the mine's periphery. When villagers went to protest at mine headquarters, they were assaulted with fire extinguishers and batons.

The mine produces six tons of gold and 17 tons of silver each year and has expanded its landholdings after 25 tons of new gold ore was discovered in 2011. Residents of the nearby village are each paid 968 yuan per year by the mine as compensation for land loss and health complications.

Due to current living conditions, most villagers have decided they want to move away from the mining area. According to the Yunnan Info Daily report only one percent of residents want to stay.

People have been told they would be paid 80,000 yuan per person to relocate but so far no compensation has materialized. A villager surnamed Yang told reporters "if we can relocate, I'll be the first one to go."

Image: Asianow

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Over in Yunnan, theres still the death penalty, if you happen to poison a whole village. Ok, yea, its gold, but a least in theory. In corrupted neighbouring countries, where these same enterprises have deals, they can pretty much get away with "mistakes". Plenty of stories in Laos and Burma, about leaves falling from trees, since the miners came.

Oh yea, and plenty of products too, that have been dumped there that aint work at home. A Coke across the border can taste alcohol! Now recently, people seem to be aware of edible oil from China - for one or another reason.

And hey, in historic perspective, things are excellent though. The worst place used to be Gejiu tinmines, which was the second most closed city in Asia after Lhasa. Gejiu was so ruthless, - yea, even i  Yunnan hard ol' days - that witnesses were simply not let inside to see. Not even in opium and bandit days of Yunnan. 

There are a few witnesses from Gejiu some 70 years ago or so, and it sure was a horror landscape: children slaves coloured green from cyanide poisoning. Guards with guns on hills, shooting slaves like rabbits, them that tried to escape. Only a few did succeed to escape, as they were more or less blind from the poisons. A few stories of green and blind slave-kids, that made it out from the horror, and wandered hand-in-hand on streets begging alms from the colonial French, - those French, that even planned to colonize Yunnan at one time. 

Edgar Snow, the famed journalist, did some comment on those days Yunnan mining too, and pointed out the rightfully moral factor of the communists. What the communists did, was to put the old days Gejiu managers and runners in the mines and replace the slaves. "Now, how those this feel boys?" Maybe some ideas from those old days could influence today. As the Chinese saying goes, look in the past to see the future. How about sharing drinking water from local wells...

Thanks for the info Peter 99.

I met a guy in London recently who was part of the group that helped set up the Pan Asia Gold Exchange in Kunming (www.pagold.cn). He told me it was beset by difficulties. Has anybody come across them or know if they've got the show up and running?

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