A deadly landslide in the southern Philippines in early January underscores the dangers of unregulated, artisanal mining, experts say.
"Aside from the unusually heavy rains, small-scale mining is one of the major triggers of landslides in the Philippines," Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Leo Jasareno, confirmed.
Although no exact figures are available, he estimated about 30 percent of the latest landslides were due in part to such mining.
According to the International Labour Organization, artisanal miners employ rudimentary techniques for mineral extraction and often operate under hazardous, labour-intensive and illegal conditions.
On 5 January, at least 35 miners and their families were killed, and dozens more left missing, when a landslide tore through a small-scale gold mining site in Pantukan Township in the Compostela Valley on the island of Mindanao, burying a 7,500 sqm area.
The mountainside in Napnapan Village collapsed around 3am when most residents were asleep, sweeping away dozens of homes, shanties and other buildings, officials said.
Government experts cite heavy rains, aggravated by unregulated gold mine tunnelling as the cause.
"The mayor of Pantukan has been instructed to padlock and close the tunnels that are unsafe and extremely high risk. We cannot afford another incident," Compostela Governor Arturo Uy told IRIN.
On 11 January, authorities began demolishing upwards of 200 homes and shanties in high-risk areas.
There are nine mining towns in Compostela Valley in the Davao Region, an area that has long attracted individual prospectors.
At least 30,000 small-scale miners operate in Pantukan, most of whom are outsiders, local media reports say. More than 70 percent of all gold in the country is extracted this way, government sources say.
According to the MGB, up to 80 percent of the Philippines is landslide prone, making the country the fourth most exposed to landslide risk after Indonesia, India and China.
At the same time, the country is also among the richest in mineral resources, making for a particularly deadly mix.
There are between 200,000 and 300,000 small-scale miners nationwide, Jasareno says.
"Sixty to 80 percent of them don't have permits. They're not regulated and they don't follow rules," he said, noting that many small-scale miners are also using heavy equipment.
"Their operations certainly add pressure to the soil," the official added.
According to the World Bank, an estimated 20 million men, women and children worldwide from over 50 developing countries are engaged in artisanal and small-scale mining, while a further 100 million depend on it for their livelihoods.
These numbers are growing in line with higher prices and demand for minerals both in developed countries and emerging economies such as China and India.