Mongolia could soon be home to the largest copper mine in the world.
After years of negotiations, Western mining companies Rio Tinto and Ivanhoe are close to reaching an agreement with the Mongolian parliament to develop significantly the Oyu Tolgoi mine. Mineweb reports that the untapped deposit contains 78 billion pounds of copper and 45 million ounces of gold. If all goes to plan, the massive investment would double the size of Mongolia's economy and create thousands of jobs, according to NPR.
The economic crisis has hit Mongolia harder than most countries in East Asia. One in four people are out of work, NPR reports. The country’s nomadic herders – 40 percent of the population – are struggling after the price of cashmere dramatically declined earlier this year (see Manasi Sharma’s Downturn in the Gobi). Now, some are hailing Oyu Tolgoi as an immediate economic fix.
But there are several obvious challenges. First, Mongolia is highly corrupt. It is ranked 102 out of 180 countries in the latest Transparency International index, an annual rating of perceived levels of corruption (defined as the abuse of public office for private gain). Additionally, the editorial in Mineweb suggests that Russia and China may have inordinate influence over Mongolia’s mining industry. Given these two factors, how much will the average Mongolian gain?
Lastly, there are the social implications of this investment to consider. For many nomadic herders, shifting to industrial mining jobs is far from ideal, but there isn’t much else to turn to. People are desperate now that raw cashmere and other materials do not provide a reliable way to feed and clothe families. "They are losing their land, their animals, and even their culture," reported NPR’s Louisa Lim, "for a few specks of gold."