Authorities in northern mountainous areas once hoped that mining projects would help local economies change for the better. But the licensing of the projects have done more harm than good. Minerals have been exploited, while local authorities cannot collect taxes and local people have to deal with huge slag heaps.
The people in Ngoc Phai commune of Cho Don district in Bac Kan province cannot get a good night’s sleep. They live in fear as they don’t know if ‘death holes’ will swallow their homes.
‘Death holes’ are the large holes created by the exploitation of zinc and lead miners. In principle, miners have to rehabilitate the site after they finish exploitation activities.
Miners have left land areas without cleaning up their debris, leaving scrapyards, polluted earth and ‘death holes’.
A large hole, about 12 meters deep with the diameter of 16 meters on provincial highway No 254 connecting Cho Don district people’s committee and Bang Lung Town had to be leveled. Subsidence occurred twice in the same spot.
There was another ‘death hole’, just one kilometer away, located in Na Tum hamlet of Ngoc Phai. The hole caused cracks on the wall of the house owned by Ma Thi Tham. Cracks up to 10 cm wide also appeared on many other houses in the same area.
The field, covering an area of 15 hectares, the cultivation land for the people of Na Tum and Coc Thu hamlets, was left idle. It was completely dry, with no drop of water.
Nguyen The Vien, head of Coc Thu and Na Tum hamlets, pointing to the three ‘death holes’ in the middle of the field, said it was a green field in the past, but is now becoming dry.
According to Vien, the subsidence has been occurring more regularly since January. Locals have many times reported to the local authorities about the subsidence and the existence of the holes. Some officials came to the site to investigate the situation, but there has not been a final decision.
In fact, the subsidence in Ngoc Phai commune first occurred in 2008. In September 2008, the Bac Kan provincial authorities said that it was zinc and lead exploitation at Na Tum mine by Bac Kan Mining Company Ltd which caused subsidence in Coc Thu and Na Tum hamlets.
Bac Kan’s deputy chair Nguyen Van Thanh asked the company to apply necessary measures to prevent the subsidence and ensure safety to the environment and water sources. However, the company did not do this.
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