The Mongolian government has launched an unprecedented crackdown on mining sites that don't meet safety standards, meaning fewer opportunities for Mongolia's individual miners, who have already been hit hard by the privatisation of sites previously open to all. Kate King reports.
In Mongolia mining isn't just a job, it's a lifeline. Uuganbaatar is one of thousands who head underground on their own terms. He's able to, under a loose agreement with local unions and companies that allow unlicensed digging, but provide nothing in the way of safety equipment. Lately, making a living has been tougher than usual. (SOUNDBITE) (Mongolian) 31-YEAR-OLD MINER, UUGANBAATAR, SAYING: "Now all the mines belong to private owners and all the licenses have been bought up by influential big shots. Whenever you start to dig somewhere, someone shows up and chases us away. It's impossible for ordinary private miners like me to find a place or mine to dig in." But come winter it could get worse. The government has launched an unprecedented crackdown on sites that don't meet safety standards. That would mean even fewer prospects for individual miners. With the economy slowing, authorities fear more people could be tempted down the mines. There's been 234 recorded fatalities over the past 25 years in Nalaikh district alone. Locals say in reality the number is much higher. (SOUNDBITE) (Mongolian) SENIOR SPECIALIST AT MINING PRODUCTION AND TECHNOLOGY DEPARTMENT OF MINERAL RESOURCES AND PETROLEUM AUTHORITY OF MONGOLIA, S. BATTULGA, SAYING: "It's a very risky job. Our department conducted an inspection in Nalaikh and we found a lot of violations of safety requirements. People were working in shafts with no air supply. Therefore it was requested that the private mining license in Nalaikh be cancelled. Despite the closures the government knows illegal mining will continue. Roughly one in five Mongolians live in poverty and to some, the little earned from this primitive form of mining, is worth the risk.