Mongolians affected by mining but benefits can be realised, research shows

26 May 2015

Mining provides income and infrastructure to Mongolia, but it also brings drastic social and environmental changes, new research shows.

Research from The University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute, in conjunction with the Gender Center for Sustainable Development in Mongolia, has found the impact has been greatest on the iconic herder populations.

Dr Isabel Cane of the CSRM Mongolia Research Hub, who managed the research, said recent controversies had highlighted that while there were positive financial and physical outcomes from mining, but this was often accompanied by drastic social change and environmental degradation.

“We can’t underestimate the benefits that mining has brought to these regions,” Dr Cane said.

“Mining provides an alternative income source for herders during difficult seasons and extreme weather conditions.

“Improved public infrastructure through investments in hospitals, telecommunications and schools has also improved access to care and widened social networks.

“One of the most difficult issues for minerals development globally and within Mongolia is balancing or indeed ensuring that the positive impacts from mining outweigh the negative.”

The two year research was funded by the Australian Government Overseas Aid program through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and worked in the Northern forest regions and Southern Gobi Desert of Mongolia.

Dr Cane said by conducting both household interviews and geographic information system (GIS) mapping, the research team documented the social changes and the impacts to the local environment since the arrival of mining.

Fellow researcher and GIS specialist Phillip McKenna said one of the challenges they identified was the lack of available pasture and subsequent losses of income and livelihood options for nomadic farmers, based on 30-years of documented changes in mine-affected areas.

“Our findings suggest that unmanaged roads have impacted up to 400,000 hectares of area that supports herders. This raises concerns for loss of access to pastureland and income,” Mr McKenna said.

The team will present their findings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mongolia with the International Mining for Development Alumni Forum on June 3, 2015. The event will showcase Australian-Mongolian research and collaborations in responsible mining and development.

The research was led by SMI’s Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining under the direction of Professor Saleem Ali. The project showcased the integrative and interdisciplinary nature of the Institute with collaboration between SMI’s Centre for Water and the Mining Industry and the Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, as well as the Australian National University.

The Gender Center for Sustainable Development is a national autonomous, non-profit and non-governmental organization founded in July 1995. The main goals of the Gender Center for Sustainable Development are to promote gender equality and support human development process by mainstreaming gender issues into the social, economic, political planning and programming in Mongolia. It strives to facilitate the establishment of a just, democratic and healthy society in partnership with all people and institutions of good will. GCSD work involves policy analysis and dialogue on key development issues, action research, advocacy training, information dissemination and capacity building.