In The News

In Mongolia: A New Mining Legacy

November 19, 2008

In the northwest corner of central Mongolia’s Tov province, 80% of the land in Ugumuur town has been licensed to 18 Mongolian, Russian, and Chinese miners. Activity hums dusk to dawn.

Ugumuur is a boom-town but like many towns in Mongolia, it is deeply scarred by a legacy of poor mining practices in the 1990s. Citizens have been divorced from land-use decision-making, they observe environmental damage and often imported labor crowded them out of the local mining market. These are sore points with locals, who, according to one, say that they would support mining if “we are engaged and employed, and if companies reclaim land when extraction is completed.” These concerns are voiced by communities in Khentii, Hovsgol and other provinces across Mongolia.

For mining to develop, Mongolia must shed its legacy of poor practices, and some domestic companies are helping with this. One, Monpolimet, is adopting an array of best practices that will be stoked when Australian, Canadian and other foreign firms begin operations and help reinforce positive trends in corporate social responsibility.

Monpolimet is among the top 10 Mongolian miners and has committed to engagement and social responsibility in Ugummur. The company has adopted reclamation practices that increasingly conform to best practices, including reseeding with endemic plants, and engaging citizens. The company also contributes to a community fund that supports training for student water-quality monitors.

Communities and companies can cooperate to monitor mining in order to inform decision-making and dispel misconceptions. For two consecutive years, The Asia Foundation, local officials, citizens and students have tested water quality in the Tul River above and below Uguumur mines. Using biological and chemical tests, the findings were surprising ” water quality downstream was superior to upstream. This could be evidence of mines’ increasing commitment to watershed protection but it is also indicative of the complex pressures on rivers and streams, including global warming, forestry, and herding.

Citizens are not innately hostile to mining but are wary. Citizens want to preserve their communities and culture, a better standard of living and to protect human and environmental health. They recognize mining can bring growth, jobs and prosperity. It is one option they say they will entertain, if they are engaged and employed, and if companies reclaim their land.

To change negative perspectives, they need information and to be included in local development decisions. The needs are consistent with the nine principles advanced by Mongolia’s Responsible Mining Initiative, which is a registered non-government institution governed by a board comprising parliamentarians, executive branch officials, industry, and civil society. It is fledgling but will ultimately be a source of objective research and analysis that informs the mining sector and development decisions. Foreign and Mongolian companies have subscribed to the nine principles, which they and a 150-member strong coalition of public, private and non-government representatives helped forge.

Monpolimet and Ugumuur are implementing the responsible mining principles, and seemingly understand that citizen engagement, transparency, accountability and corporate social responsibility are good for the bottom line and for the community. More companies, communities and government officials need to follow this lead in order to create a new and positive legacy for Mongolia’s mining industry.

The above was originally published in “Asia Miner” Magazine and was written by Rebecca Darling, the Director of Natural Resources and Development programs at The Asia Foundation in Mongolia. She can be reached at rdarling@asiafound.org.

View all posts by Rebecca Darling

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