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Philippines Landslide Toll Shows Risks of Unlicensed Mining

The Philippines said the death toll from a landslide that hit a gold-mining community has climbed to 31 people, underscoring the risks of unlicensed prospecting.

The number of dead has risen from 25 when the disaster struck on Jan. 5 in Compostela Valley in the southern province of Mindanao, Colonel Leopoldo Galon, a spokesman of the military’s eastern command, said in a mobile-phone text message today. There are still 39 people missing, he said.

As many as 80 percent of 200,000 to 300,000 small-scale miners in the nation are operating without permits, with the desire for profit luring them back to Compostela even after earlier evacuations, Mines and Geosciences Bureau Director Leo Jasareno said in a phone interview today.

“If you ask them to choose between farming and mining for gold, they would definitely go for the latter,” he said.

A miner can earn between 2,000 pesos ($45) and 2,500 pesos per gram of gold and would consider himself unlucky if he found only a gram each day in Compostela, Jasareno said. The minimum wage in the capital is less than 500 pesos.

A landslide in April 2011 killed 14 in Compostela, according to disaster management agency data. Another took the lives of five people in the valley last month following heavy rains caused by Tropical Storm Washi.

About 3,700 communities in the Philippines are vulnerable to landslides, Jasareno said.

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