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Mongolia: The Mining Projects Leaving Herders Without Livelihoods

Mining projects in Mongolia promise development of social and economic infrastructure and a way to alleviate poverty, but on the wayside, local communities near the mines are feeling the negative impact as their environment and traditional livelihoods are affected.

The environmental NGO CEE Bankwatch Network has been reporting on mining projects both in Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, projects which have been encouraged by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Bankwatch's concerns, voiced in ‘Rushing into gold can leave people behind, EBRD‘, are around resource depletion, particularly water, and changes in commodity prices:

Whether the promised revenues will help Mongolia to develop badly needed welfare services and build an economy that can sustain the depletion of its resources or sudden changes in commodity prices is an open question however. The dominance of the mining sector has already raised fears of a “dutch disease” or “resource curse”.

Open pit mining in Mongolia. Image by Flickr user pjriccio2006 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Open pit mining in Mongolia. Image by Flickr user pjriccio2006 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

This short video was made by CEE Bankwatch Network in eastern Europe, Urgewald from Germany, the Bank Information Center in the United States and Oyu Tolgoi Watch from Mongolia, who traveled to Mongolia to study the environmental and social impact the Ukhaa Khudag coal mine in Mongolia's south Gobi desert is already having:

If the previous video showed how things are starting to go with mining in Mongolia, in Kyrgyzstan they already have a long history of negative effects mining has had on the environment, health and local communities.

The next video goes into the glaciar region of Kyrgyzstan and visits the areas surrounding the Kumtor open air gold mine, which has been operating for over 15 years. Cyanide poisoning and water contamination is what the communities have; none of the promised development and benefits have reached them.

Both the Mongolian and the Kyrgyzstan mining videos and background were written about in ‘Earth's riches, people's troubles. Mining in Central Asia‘:

The cases in question – the Oyu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi mines in Mongolia and the Kumtor gold mine in Kyrgyzstan – are both important contributors to their country's national income and both receive (or in case of Oyu Tolgoi may soon receive) support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development(EBRD). Both, however, pose risks to the local communities that can't be compensated in monetary terms.

These countries are not the only ones facing development with the negative impacts mining brings. In nearby Tibet, villagers managed to halt a mining project being established in one of their sacred mountains.

The topic is controversial; how high a price can a community pay for development of their country? Vladlena Martsynkevych, Bankwatch's Central Asia Officer writes:

The extractive industry can very well contribute to a country’s economic development and bring desired employment and revenues. At the same time mining is a highly disruptive activity with considerable negative impacts on the environment and the livelihoods of local communities. In countries with underdeveloped democratic structures, lack of institutional capacity or simply corruption, the damages can quickly overweigh. Benefits can then bypass the local level and end up enriching the involved companies and – not least – the technological progress and wealth in developed nations.

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