Mongolia's mining boom is bad news

MONGOLIA is experiencing the negative side to its mining boom, with health issues on the rise and illegal mining jeopardising safety.

Sadie Davidson

An increased rate of illegal mining and poor mine planning caused an influx in safety standard breaches, and compromised the health of people and livestock.

After the fall of communism in Mongolia many people became traditional herders.

Harsh winters in the early 2000s resulted in a massive loss in livestock. After this, thousands of Mongolians turned to illegal mining on properties abandoned by larger mining companies.

An estimated 100,000 Mongolians mine informally for coal alone, producing more than the formal industrial sector, which alone contributes more than 20% of Mongolia's GDP.

Illegal miners have been found crawling through narrow shafts without the proper timber supports, a minimum safety requirement.

In the semi-arid Areas of the Gobi desert the amount of dirt generated from poorly planned roads built for coal mining operations is compromising the health of local people, as well as their animals.

The creation of these roads, which accommodate truckloads of minerals to neighbouring China and run through areas where many animals graze, is also leading to high degradation of pasturelands.

In 2012, minerals comprised 30% of the nation’s GDP and more than 80% of its exports, according to researchers at the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining.

One approach to reduce health and safety risks is to reduce illegal mining to ease the barriers currently in place, stopping them from becoming formal miners.

The scheme would allow also small miners to upgrade their equipment and raise funds, while forcing them to follow Mongolia’s regulations over its huge reserves.