Friday, November 30, 2012

Mining saps a thirsty desert

Michelle Tolson in IPS: The Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine in the southern Gobi desert in Mongolia has become a symbol of a looming crisis: a limited water supply that could be exhausted within a decade, seriously threatening the lives and livelihoods of the local population.

Oyu Tolgoi is one of the largest copper deposits in the world and has attracted major investors over the years, from Robert Friedland of Ivanhoe Capital Corporation, to the mining giant Rio Tinto, which now holds a majority stake in the investment, while the Mongolian government controls just 34 percent of the project.

Now, local communities fear that returns on investments will take precedence over their own subsistence, while simultaneously heightening the region’s acute water shortage. A 2010 World Bank water assessment report for the southern Gobi region projected a “lifespan” for water resources based on the number of mining projects in the pipeline, as well as a study of the region’s growing population whose primary occupation is herding and rearing livestock.

...Subsistence herders must share a limited water supply with numerous mines. A 2009 World Bank report found that mining exploration licences cover 55 percent of this area. Omongovi province, for instance, “has 63 licences issued for extraction and 400 licences for exploration.”...

A desert landscape in Inner Mongolia, shot by Fir0002, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

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