Gold mining in Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar

Despite being recognized by the UNESCO as an area of high conservation value, gold mining is happening in the surroundings of the Indawgyi Lake, contaminating the waters with mercury and cyanide and increasing the sedimentation in the lake.

Located in the remote northern Kachin state, Indawgyi lake is Myanmar’s largest freshwater lake and one of the largest in Southeast Asia. It is also considered a high-value conservation area that “provides habitat for 10 globally threatened bird species and is of outstanding value for the conservation of migrating waterbirds”, according to UNESCO [1].

The UN agency has listed the place as a Man and Biosphere Reserve [2], and the lake has been part of the Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary since 1999. In February 2014, Myanmar’s Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry submitted a proposal with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to register Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary as an ecological World Heritage Site.

However, despite this recognition, unregulated gold mining is happening in the area and is causing environmental degradation as dumped waste and chemicals have flowed into the stream, according to local villagers [3]. The government has claimed that the activities are not legal but that stopping them is complex due to the region’s security issues. Thus, arrests could only be made with the collaboration of locals and authorities [4] [5], the government says, but this rarely happens. The area has been ravaged by an ethnic conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar army that has been running for decades.

UNESCO has also raised concerns regarding the threats “by hydraulic and small-scale gold mining” in the area. According to the international organization, most of the mines are outside of the boundaries of the park but they are located along streams that flow into the lake. Elevated mercury levels and increased sedimentation in the lake have also been documented. According to the Pan Kachin Development Society [6], mines in the area also use cyanide for the extraction of the gold, that is later released into the waters.

Local conservationists have also raised concerns about illegal logging ravaging forests inside Indawgyi’s wildlife sanctuary [7] to meet the internal demand for wood for cooking. Thus Flora and Fauna International have collected satellite imagery that shows that logging in the area ramped up between 2015 and 2016 [6].

However, conservation efforts face resistance because the mines have become an important source of income for some of the local communities. For others, the environmental degradation means that subsistence activities, like fishing, have become harder [8].

Moreover, as in the jade mines in Hpakan, also in Kachin state, workers in the gold mines are submitted to tough working conditions and need to consume drugs to endure them. Many of them are migrants from other regions of the country [3].
Basic Data
NameGold mining in Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar
ProvinceKachin state
SiteIndawgyi Biosphere Reserve
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Mineral ore exploration
Logging and non timber extraction
Specific CommoditiesGold
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsArea: 133,715 hectares. This is the area of the Indawgyi Biosphere Reserve, including the lake area, floating vegetation areas, swamp forest and seasonally flooded grasslands

Affected population: there are 35,000 people living around the lake, according to UNESCO [1]
Project Area (in hectares)133,715
Level of Investment (in USD)unknown
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population35,000
Start Date01/01/1999
Relevant government actorsMyanmar’s Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry
International and Financial InstitutionsUNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from France
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersPan Kachin Development Society

Fauna and Flora International (,
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
International ejos
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Potential: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
OtherHealth issues related to water contamination
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseUnder negotiation
Development of AlternativesNGOs have proposed to reinforce the surveillance in the area and boost ecotourism.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Even though some protection has been granted to the area in theory, the mines are still degrading the environment in the area.
Sources and Materials

[1] Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary. UNESCO Tentative list (accessed on 28.01.2019).
[click to view]

[6] Illegal logging ‘ravaging’ Myanmar’s Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Reserve, November 16, 2016 (accessed on 28.01.2019).
[click to view]

[5] Security Concerns Hamper Tackling Illegal Gold Mining Around Indawgyi Lake, The Irrawaddy, May 31, 2017 (accessed on 28.01.2019).
[click to view]

[7] In Myanmar, a Lake That Sustained Generations Feels Strains, The New York Times, May 28, 2017 (accessed on 28.01.2019).
[click to view]

[4] Illegal gold miners disrupt serene Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar Times, June 2, 1027 (accessed on 28.01.2019).
[click to view]

[3] Gold mining, conflict threaten Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar Times, January 11, 2016 (accessed on 28.01.2019).
[click to view]

[6] At What Price Gold Mining in Kachin State, Burma?, Report, Images Asia & Pan Kachin Development Society, November 2004 (accessed on 28.01.2019).
[click to view]

[2] Indawgyi Biosphere Reserve, Man and Biosphere Programme, UNESCO (accessed on 28.01.2019).
[click to view]

Other Documents

A view of a logging camp in the Indawgyi Lake region A view of a logging camp in the Indawgyi Lake region. Fauna & Flora International
[click to view]

The Indawgyi lake The Indawgyi lake. UNESCO
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorLaura Villadiego, Carro de Combate, [email protected]
Last update28/01/2019