MUMBAI, India – Myanmar’s top Catholic prelate called for “economic and ecological justice” after a mining accident killed at least 172 people in Hpakant the country’s Kachin state.

The victims had been illegally sifting for bits of jade left over after heavy machinery excavated the ground and left behind huge mounds of discarded earth when they were covered by a landslide.

“Those who died were not only buried under a landslide of the mountain but by the landslide of injustice,” Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon said in a July 4 message.

“Pope Francis has raised his voice against the never-ending tsunami of economic and environmental injustice against the poor all over the world. Those who perished were sacrificed on the altar of greed, by utter negligence and arrogance of companies that continue to dehumanize the poor of this land,” he continued.

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday said the accident shows it is difficult for the country’s citizens to get legal jobs, and that generating jobs should be a priority.

Bo said the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the situation.

“In these tragic times of COVID lockdown there cannot be a lockdown of the fire of hunger. That forced those poor to seek the crumbs of jade that fall from mega-companies’ bulldozers,” the cardinal said.

“Millions of our country men have lost livelihood to the COVID pandemic. This mine tragedy is a grim reminder of the need for sharing God given natural treasures. The treasures of Myanmar belong to the people of Myanmar,” he added.

Global Witness, an environmental advocacy group, blamed Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy for not implementing “desperately needed” reforms of the mining industry after five years in office.

“The government has turned a blind eye to continued illicit and rapacious mining practices in Hpakant despite vowing to reform the hazardous sector,” said Paul Donowitz, campaign leader at Global Witness, in a July 2 statement.

“The longer the government waits to introduce rigorous reforms of the jade sector, the more lives will be lost. This was an entirely preventable tragedy that should serve as an urgent wake-up call for the government,” Donowitz added.

Bo noted the accident in Hpakant “is not the first time of this merciless tragedy and if the relevant stakeholders do not respond with compassion and justice, this will not be the last time of this inhuman tragedy.”

“While commending the prompt response of authorities to this tragedy, we earnestly urge the government and other stakeholders to ensure that such tragedies do not repeat. This land is blessed with natural resources to provide for all. Let this be the last tragedy,” the cardinal said.