Resource extraction in Myanmar’s conflict zones has fueled ongoing abuses of local communities as well as environmental degradation. Several coal mines in the Nam Ma area in Hsipaw township, Northern Shan State have caused severe concerns over livelihood loss, health impacts and violent attacks against locals, informs a report published in 2017 by the Nam Ma Shan Farmers .
Coal mining began first in the area in the 1980s, when the mines were directly operated by the Burma Army. During that time, the Maw Taan village was set up for the workers and their families. Only minor impacts related to water pollution were felt by locals, because at that time, the coal transport route did not cross their villages. While the 1990s saw large amounts of coal being mined in Maw Taan, extraction decreased since 2000 and eventually came to a stop since 2010. Coal mining in the Nam Ma tract increased however rapidly with the Ngwe Yi Pale Company, which begun to extract coal since 2004. In 2010, the company was given a 10-year permit to dig for coal in a joint venture with Myanmar’s No. 3 Mining Company . The concession area covers about 1,130 ha. Two of the digging sites appear to be located outside the concession area, argues the civil society report . In February 2016, the mining ministry granted another one-year permit to explore for coal in same concession area. According to village leaders, they were not consulted nor signed approval of these permits .
The Nam Ma coal mines have had strong impacts on the environment, the livelihoods and the health of villagers, documents the civil society report . Seven villages are located in the Nam Ma tract and seven villages are on the road to Hsipaw, where the coal is transported. The villages are comprised of ethnic Shan whose main livelihood has been farming (rice, oranges, mustard greens, sesame and tea). In total, over 3,000 people are adversely affected by the coal mining activities . Extraction began without any consultations, states the report. The mining activities destroyed farmlands and irrigation sources and caused strong water and air pollution. Growing traffic required to transport the coal has caused air pollution, particularly during dry season, as well as deadly traffic accidents with local villagers . Tuberculosis cases have recently increased in the mining area, raising concerns over unforeseen health impacts from air pollution caused by coal mining, documents a brief by the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) . Air quality in 2017 was worse than in past years, say villagers .
Water sources, too, have been degraded. Villagers bathing in the Nam Ma stream complained about itchy skin and the disappearance of aquatic species . According to the head of the Wan Long women’s group, “[b]efore the mining company came, there were lots of fish and snails which we used to catch in the river for food every day. However, after their coal mining operation, our water became black, and it is also difficult for us to find and catch any fish as well as snails. There are not many, like before.” [1, page 22]. The report furthermore states that “[t]he destruction of water sources, farmlands, hillside vegetation and grazing lands, has made the Nam Ma area noticeably hotter and drier. Villagers say that it has become more difficult to farm and rear animals as a result.” [1, page 29]. (For more detailed impacts of the different mining sites in Nam Ma, see full report  and Project Details, below).
The Nam Ma coal mines have been developed amidst strong political tensions and armed conflict. After the 1989 ceasefire agreement between the Burmese Army and the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), the area was under joint administration of the two parties for about 27 years . In 2005, the Burma Army set up an outpost next to the mines that remained there until 2009. When in April 2010, the SSPP and their armed wing, the Shan State Army (SSA), refused to become a Border Guard Force, attacks were launched against the SSPP/SSA . In May 2016, according to several reports [1,3,4], the Burma Army carried out a large attack in the area to drive the SSPP/SSA out of the mining area to protect the coal extraction operations. During the attacks, over 1,000 villagers had to flee their homes, while troops destroyed their households and looted valuable goods. Company trucks were reportedly used to carry away the looted goods . Several villagers were arrested, beaten and tortured and some also killed [1,3,4]. While after the clash, villagers were not allowed to go their fields, mining resumed at full scale only one week after fighting stopped . About a year later, in March 2017, a village leader of the Nam Ma coal mining area, who previously had refused to agree to a mining extension into the villages’ main watershed area, was shot dead by unknown assailants. This has further instilled fears among local villagers .
The Nam Ma villagers have actively demanded a halt of the mining activities since 2016 . In March 26, 2016, over 250 villagers met with the Ngwe Yi Pale company representatives, urging them to stop mining activities . On June 16, 2016, the village administrator and 300 villagers signed a letter for the Hsipaw township administrator and a SNLD political party representative, demanding an end to the coal mining. Following the letter, meetings between village, township and company representatives were held, however, the company refused to stop mining. Instead, they offered social projects and infrastructure improvement . On August 9, 2016, 361 villagers gathered at the Nam Ma monastery to vote over the project. All voted for an immediate end to coal mining in the area . On June 29, 2017, 600 villagers held a forest blessing ceremony to oppose coal mining. The ceremony was led by 15 monks at the Ho Na Pa forest – the main watershed for farmers .
The report published by the Nam Man Shan Farmers in 2017 detailed the development and impacts of the mine, as well as the efforts of locals to stop harmful coal extraction. The farmers call upon the Burmese government to “to immediately stop the mining operations, which are damaging their farming livelihoods, environment and health.” [1, page 6]. Villagers demand from the company ”that Ngwe Yi Pale immediately stops all their mining opera¬tions in Nam Ma, and removes all their equipment and personnel from the area without delay” [1, page 36].