The Price of Jade
photo by Minzayar Oo

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Small-scale jade miners rush to jump along with the huge pile of rubble being dumped by mining companies over a landscape, in order to scavenge for raw jade stones from the company waste, Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar

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Small-scale miners search for stone as dump trucks from a government-licensed jade mining company dump waste in Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, April 25, 2015. Jade mining a perilous job for small-scale miners. A massive landslide in November 2015 at a government-licensed company waste-dumping site reportedly killed 114 people.

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A government-licensed company's jade mining site in Hpakant, Kachin State, April 29, 2015. “Myanmar’s jade business may be the biggest natural resource heist in modern history,” says Global Witness, an London-based organisation that put the size of Myanmar's jade industry at $31 billion in 2014, equating to nearly half of national GDP and over 46 times the nation’s spending on healthcare.

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Dump trucks pass by near the Kyaing International company mining site, Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, April 26, 2015. According to a 2015 report on jade by London-based NGO Global Witness, Kyaing International company is owned by the family of former military dictator Than Shwe.

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A team of small-scale miners work in a jade mine, Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, July 18, 2014. Some miners work alone while some like this young men here work by a team in a small plot of land that is owned by their 'Lao-ban' (meaning 'Boss' in Chinese), who is often a local trader.

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The feet of an illegal jade miner at work. Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, July 17, 2014. Lumps of the precious stone can represent a fortune for small-time prospectors but rare finds by them pale next to the staggering wealth extracted from this billions-dollars industry by Myanmar's military, cronies and firms linked to China where most of the jades end up illegally.

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A group of illegal jade miners swim across the water as they try to escape an arrest by the police and the military forces, in a jade mining site, Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, July 18, 2014. Military officials say the miners are illegal and endangering a school located above. But the miners say they are being extorted for bribe money, which could be as much as 50,000 kyats per head.

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Jade miners inject heroin at a 'shooting gallery' in the jade mining site, Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, July 13, 2014. Heroin is almost openly available in Hpakant with jade miners lining up for a shot which is as cheap as 2,000 Kyats (about 2$). Drug-use is almost intrinsic to jade mining as these ‘shooting galleries’ operate openly in the mines.

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A heroin-addicted jade miner lies dead inside his makeshift tent which is located close to a "shooting gallery" near a jade mine in Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, November 29, 2015. According to local community leaders, the drug-dealers around the jade mines and the villages nearby have been given the opportunity to grow, blind-eyed by some local authorities who regularly get handsome bribes from the drug-dealers.

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A group of young jade miners rest inside their tent where they sleep to guard their mining plots from strangers as night falls, Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, July 23, 2014

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Miners with torchlights on their heads go over a pile of company mining waste, looking for jade, Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, April 27, 2015

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Miners with torchlights on their heads go over a pile of company mining waste, looking for jade, Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, April 25, 2015. Some miners work by day while others work by night but the mines never get a rest around clock.

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A trader shows a jade stone which he estimates to be worth at least forty or fifty thousands U.S. Dollars in price in the black market, at a hotel room in Yin Jiang, Yunnan Province, China, June 17, 2015. dollar industry is based.

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Chinese traders negotiate at a shop which deals raw jade stones smuggled from Myanmar through the border. Yin Jiang county, Yunnan Province, China, June 17, 2015. According to several Myanmar jade traders of the black market, almost all the raw jade stones which are being traded in Yin Jiang are smuggled directly from the black market in Myanmar's land of jade in Myanmar's Kachin state where the billion-dollar industry is based.

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The funeral of 24-year-old Ko San Tin, a freelance jade miner who died being run over by a jade mining company dump truck, Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, November 28, 2015. The next day, angry locals blocked the village road stopping the company trucks to pass through. The company quickly made an agreement with Ko San Tin's family for a compensation and closed the case. Ko San Tin who has just been in Hpakant for five months, left a 2-year-old, a wife and parents who he was supporting for.