2nd Prize Singles, Environment

15 July 2020

Hkun Lat, Myanmar

Temple and Half-Mountain

A Buddhist temple occupies one half of a mountain, while the other has been carved away by heavy machinery mining for jade, in Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, on 15 July.

Hpakant is the site of the world’s biggest jade mine, and is the largest supplier of jadeite, the more valuable of the two forms of jade. Global Witness reported Myanmar’s jade trade to be worth US$31 billion in 2014 alone—nearly half the country’s GDP. The Myanmar government has made promises to tackle problems in the sector, but progress has been slow. Destruction of the environment by mining operations includes indiscriminate vegetation loss, degradation of farmland, and river sedimentation, and is mainly a result of inappropriate mining practices. At Hpakant sites, issues include illegally high heaps of mining waste, vast abandoned mining pits, and companies failing to stabilize deep excavations. Landslides are frequent, including a mudslide after heavy rainfall in July 2020 that killed at least 100 people.

This photo has stayed really emblematic for me, since I first saw it: a Buddhist temple among the little vegetation that remains in the place, seen from a distance, gives me the feeling of resistance, however small, to the degradation of natural resources. Industry, together with the fragility of some environmental protection rules, have evicted entire communities from their places of origin, without considering cultural heritage, leading them almost to their total extinction.

Pilar Olivares, General Jury member