Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Is there anything else interesting except Mining in Mongolia?

Written by on . Published in Avoiding the resource curse on .

Global political and business leaders only see Mongolia as a source of money. Over the past 5-6 years, the map of Mongolia has become a paper where they plot their business plans. They talk openly about their dreams of accessing these natural resources as a way to become enormously rich. However, there are sour anecdotes because the outside world only understands our country as a source of their profit. Some have even began joking by referring Mongolia’s name as “Mine-Goal” as a reference to their true objective.

Recently, a participant of the project of a partner organization called Nomad Green commented during a citizen media training, “…when I search for information about Mongolia on the internet there is only information about mining.”  There are many companies from countries such as Canada, China, Russia, and Australia that are working with the Mongolian government to operate in the natural resources industry. Foreigners always focus on Mongolian mining, but there are a lot of other attractions that should be of interest to foreigners.

A recent example of how foreign governments have also become interested in the resources that Mongolia has to offer was when Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister, Okada Katsuya, visited Mongolia for two days on August 29-30, 2010. He openly expressed that Japan will become involved in the mining field in Mongolia, especially the coal field in Tavan Tolgoi, which according to Mine Web, is “often called the world’s biggest untapped coking coal deposit, holds a coal reserve of 6.5 billion tons in the landlocked country’s Gobi Desert.” From 1967 until September 2009, Tavan Tolgoi mining excavated 9,8 million tons of coal. The government, which is aiming to pull Mongolia out of poverty with its uranium, lead, zinc, copper, gold and coal deposits, will own not less than 51 percent of Tavan Tolgoi. It aims to offload up to 49 percent to a global mining giant.

However, the major prize is the untapped Uranium, of which Japan also has set its sights. As written in the website News.Mn in the last 20 years, Japan provided much financial help and support to our country, which is considered as a way to get to our mining resources. So the government’s position is that the Japanese will be a main country to co-operate in the uranium field.

There are other countries that are also interested in accessing this resource. Russia already discussed that they will co-operate with Japan in the uranium field of Mongolia. They both prohibited other countries from using uranium and expressed openly the decision to co-operate. Also the Head of Khan resource company, which is invested by Canada, signed the memorandum of co-operation with Marubeni Corporation of Japan for exploration and use  of the uranium resource in Dornod Aimag – a province in Eastern Mongolia.  It was clear that whoever wants to enter Dornod’s uranium field, the main partner and equipment provider will be Japanese.

It is clear that Mongolian government does not want to lose the close partnership with Japan, which is included in top 20 countries by science and technical development. Japan now imports coal from Australia by 87-132 USD per ton and they consider the coal importation from Mongolia is cheaper. Large Japanese companies expressed positively the offer to involve Tavan Tolgoi as operator company.

Meanwhile the Government is negotiating with ‘big foreign player” like Japan, Russia, and Canada which can become the key player in mining in Mongolia, and ordinary people are worried that their own motherland will be divided into mining licenses that can destroy the beautiful landscape.

Although Government is always talking and promising large amount of revenues from the mines, since 2001 after the discovery of copper and gold deposit Oyu Tolgoi which is a joint project between Canada’s Ivanhoe Mines and Rio Tinto, poverty has not been reduced and people’s lives have not changed. Approximately 32.2 % lives in poverty, meaning 35 out of 100 cannot earn enough for food.

Rural population, particularly the situation of herders has gotten worse over the last few years. Mongolian herders who have lived in harmony with nature for many hundreds of years have now started to suffer from desertification and climate change. For example, last winter 2009-2010, the temperature reached minus – 50’C with heavy snow during this extreme cold weather Mongolian herders lost approximately 9 million animals.

Mongolian ecosystems are fragile because of its relatively high altitude and continental climate. The survey written in Green Mongolia shows that 45 % of the country is desert, and 90% of the total territory belongs to arid and semi-arid zones prone to desertification. In addition, 65 % is classified as high risk areas for desertification.

The widespread mining for natural resources in Mongolia are challenging to sacrifice this vulnerable ecosystem and threatening to destroy the last untouched land in this continent.

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