A Glimpse into Mongolia Mining Communities
By VERNIE YOCOGAN-DIANO, Chairperson, INNABUYOG
The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) particularly
its Task Force on Women and Environment conducted a fact-finding
mission on the mining situation of some communities in Mongolia
on August 15-19, 2007 as part of its Food over Gold Campaign.
Participating organizations include Innabuyog of the Philippines,
the APWLD convenor; Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD)
of Mongolia, Solidaritas Perempuan of Indonesia, Samata of India
and the International Network on Women and Mining-Asian region.
The mission gave the participants the opportunity to have a closer
look into the land of the beautiful, of blue skies, of herds and
vast graze lands that is Mongolia. Mongolia used to enjoy a socialist
system before the 1990s. Its national government is so much eager
now to be part of the global market economy and thus had since been
welcoming foreign investments and capital.
Among the investments and industries that its national government
is aggressively selling out is gold mining, a mineral that this
country is very rich of.
Mongolia was among the 72 countries which responded quickly to
the World Bank's call to liberalize the mining industry in the 1990s.
In 1997, Mongolia passed its Mining Law and the Government Gold
Programme was launched. This signaled the beginning of intense mining
in the country. The Mining Law favored foreign mining companies
fully exempting them from taxes for the first five years and 50%
for the next five years.
The national government of Mongolia expects economic growth to
be gained by the mining industry. Most of the mines are operated
by foreign mining companies.
For over 10 years of intense capitalist mining, poverty in the
country remained and hunger increased. A n official study by the
National Statistics Office of Mongolia (2003) shows that 36.1 %
of Mongolians live below the poverty line. Simply stated, only one-third
of Mongolia population is living with US$20 per month. The poorest
20% of the population that earns US$8 a month do not have enough
income to buy adequate food.
Herding is the main livelihood of the people in the countrysides
and of the country and 40% of the population is into herding and
breeding livestock. Government policy on the mining sector and its
implementation do not respect, promote or protect the rights of
herding families. Currently, 45% of Mongolian territory had been
given away for mining. In some provinces, 70-80% of the land is
given to mining licenses.
While mining is looked upon by the Mongolian national government
as a key economic survival for the country, herders and local people
do not truly benefit from it. The right to livelihood and healthy
environment of herders are being denied because of the tremendous
destruction caused by mining.
Fact-finding mission results
In the areas visited by the fact-finding mission namely Khongor,
Zaamar, Tsenker, Bat-Ulzii and Uyanga, vast tracts of pasture or
grazing lands had been wasted as these had been turned into open-pit
gold mines. A number of earth moving equipments run around the mine
site digging the earth, turning everything upside down.
Water which is a very scarce resource in Mongolia is being drawn
to the mine areas. Hundreds of rivers, lakes and springs through
Mongolia have dried up and polluted due to gold extraction. Small-scale
miners (called ninja miners) are being driven away when they come
to take a small amount to sustain the day's survival.
Gold processing is only by water separation. There are no mills
and only the water guns and washing area where miners separate gold
particles from the soil are found. With no processing mills, companies
proudly say they do not use chemicals like cyanide or heavy metals
like mercury at all. Hence, it remains a question for the fact-finding
mission what turns the water in the mine ponds blue-green. The question
of chemical use will only be answered after a chemical test is conducted
with the water sample taken by the mission.
Around 50% of gold yields is wasted because of the crude processing
yet ninja miners are often chased away whenever they scavenge. The
mine sites have provided quicker source of money for the ninja miners.
Children stop going to school, in some mine sites like in Zaamar
and Khongor. Prostitution is visibly present in the mining areas.
Safety for the mine workers and of the ninja is left up to them.
Gers (traditional houses) for the mine workers are all around the
Potable water supply is hardly accessible and exposure to polluted
water is evidenced by skin rashes and diseases of people around
the mine sites and in dead livestock which are believed to have
drunk from polluted water sources. Respiratory diseases are also
observed in people.
Noise caused by the non-stop earth-moving equipment truly breaks
the countryside serenity and beauty.
Political question and some recommendations
Why such destruction in its physical and social sense is happening,
is a big political question to the Mongolian government. For as
long as mining is done in the framework of profit and monopoly,
no real benefit will reach the people. By the time mines close,
herding as the long-proven sustainable livelihood of the Mongolian
people will be impossible by then.
The Mongolian government has to review its mining policies, ensure
safeguards for the environment and people's livelihoods and make
mining most beneficial to the people and not to mining corporations.
The Mongolian government should heed people's resistance to mining
and should order the immediate closure of those mines. Rehabilitation
should follow right away. Government should also ensure just compensation
for damages caused by mining companies to people's livelihood, land
The people of Mongolia should engage into debates as to whether
mining should be allowed or not.
What is inspiring is that there is local resistance, and awareness
on the amount of destruction caused by mining is reaching the population.
The added challenge for women's and people's or civil society organizations
is to develop an effective information and education system regarding
mining; strengthening and broadening formations/movements against
destructive corporate mining, relate the mining issue with water,
food and other real people's issues in Mongolia; build linkages
in the national and international levels and talk about an alternative
to destructive corporate mining. In such processes, the women and
the youth should participate stressing the role they play in all
spheres of development.
One team of the mission learned about this Mongolian value"leave
stones where they are". Gold is a mineral found in a precious
stone called ore. Let us put across this Mongolian value to mining
companies and to the national government of Mongolia. #
(Vernie Yocogan-Diano is currently the chairperson of Innabuyog,
the Cordillera alliance of indigenous women's organizations.)