Guest Post by Sara L. Jackson
Herders Protest the Unpaved Coal Truck Road in Umnigovi
Dozens of herders began a roadblock on September 3, 2012 to protest the impacts of unpaved mining roads in Umnigovi (South Gobi) province. They are blocking the unpaved coal road from Tsogtsetsii to the Chinese border at Tsagaan Khad, but not the Energy Resource and Oyu Tolgoi paved roads to the border. The herders are from Khanbogd, Bayan Ovoo and Tsogtsetsii soums.
Unpaved mining-related roads are major sources of dust and complaint among residents in the area. As hundreds of trucks drive down the roads each day, huge plumes of dust obscure passing vehicles, which causes frequent accidents. The trucks, weighed down with coal and supplies, grind dirt into a fine powder that covers the surrounding pasture. According to herders, the dust sickens their livestock, pollutes the air and water, and ruins the landscape.
From interviews and focus groups I have conducted in Umnigovi and Ulaanbaatar over the last year for my dissertation, I have heard of few plans to improve the public coal road that the herders are currently blocking. A large area of Umnigovi is covered in exploration and exploitation licenses. There has been little government interest or combined effort among mining companies to regulate mining related traffic and infrastructure development. Government representatives argue that the various mining companies need to come together to build a shared paved road. Those working with mining companies argue that the government needs to either build a road or require the companies to come up with a common solution.
Below is a translation of a letter written by the involved NGOs located in Umnigovi and Ulaanbaatar.
Gobi Soil, Tsetsii Homeland, OT Watch, Steps without Borders
Respected People –
Upon the request of the herders of the soums of Khan Bogd, Bayan Ovoo, and Tsogttseii in Omnogobi province we are voicing their concerns about the lackof information and irresponsible acts around the road construction work between Tavan Tolgoi deposit and the Gashuun Sukhait, in light of the lack of responsibility and worry for what might happen in the future. The Gobi Soil and Tsetsii Nutag NGOs have previously written and spoken to the (various ministries), the President, the Prime Minister, and National Human Rights Commission to convey our complaints and requests that something be done about these problems but to date we have not received any answer from any organization or public official, we deeply regret that the law is being neglected in such a manner.
Therefore, at the earliest possible time, we would like to receive information about the road construction work plans, the route, the standards, the building schedule, the implementing building companies, and open and transparent account reports from EIAs, and we urge you to hold a meeting between the residents of the region and the government and company in order to discuss these topics. Your organization must comply with Mongolian law, and the standards of the United Nations, and the rules and regulations for implementation of projects according to the international financial institution (IFIs) standards.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT
The “Coal Road,” or the paved and unpaved freight roads and other small roads that run from the mine at Tavan Tolgoi to Tsagaan Khad are affecting every aspect of the lives of the people who live along these routes, from pasture to drinkable water to a lack of clean air; we have seen the end of a safe environment and the advent of unfavorable conditions that have altered our livelihoods, and caused the loss of good health. We feel increasingly and entirely cut off from our ability to improve our livelihoods; our traditional life has become disordered and our long heritage has been rudely trespassed upon and interrupted, for which reason we seek the following:
Law on Environmental Impact Assessment, Articles 2,4-8th requires to evaluate the environmental, social and human health impact from road construction on the community, a process which should include those from the region who are affected, as well as representatives from expert organizations. EIA report should incorporate the opinions of the local community.
Coal Road Social Impact Assessment:
Firstly: Establish negative impact on the pasture because the size, quality and accessibility of pasture has a direct impact on the livestock of the nomadic herders. Based on this finding calculate the impact on the nomadic households’ income and living standards.
Secondly: Determine the effect of the coal road construction and operation activities on the health of people
Thirdly: Determine the effects of the coal road construction and operation on surface water and well water quality, and ascertain the effects of declines in water quality on human and livestock health.
Fourthly: Develop methodology for calculating the effect of above impacts on herding household’s income and health and needed compensation measures.
Fifthly: Based on opinions from expert organizations, establish and abide by methodology for calculating compensation for the negative impact and economic losses.
Sixthly: All parties must adhere to the laws of Mongolia and the IFI performance standards for broad public consultations and inclusion of the opinion of citizens of the impact zones in the design and management of construction and operations of the black-top roads and railroads.
We urge the government and companies to take on the following obligations regarding the negative impacts of their operations:
- Prior to granting approval for repairs, quarrying, or any other land use, a social and environmental impact assessment must be conducted, including consideration of the opinions of the regional residents, and in compliance with law. If any party is found breaking the law, approval for activities must be revoked.
- Within the zone affected by negative impacts, consider ways to reduce or protect against negative impacts in advance, and in case of negative impacts, create a means to determine compensation.
- Put an immediate stop to transport of coal and other goods along the dirt roads.
- In consultation with the herders establish the sites where and how many passes to construct for human and\or animal traffic.
- In case of road construction and repairs, undertake immediate restoration work, and erect fencing and signage to safeguard people and livestock.
- If a company does not carry out adequate restoration work, they will be legally prevented from participation in further projects, tenders, and financing.
- The example of inadequate quality culverts built on the Undai River where it had been cut off culverts(see photo), which have been built upon the demand of people who live near the river, shows that there is need to enforce the laws and if standards are not upheld by road building companies or companies awaiting permits, as determined through expert monitoring, then means should be established to terminate contracts.
Herders call for these demands to be upheld in all of their stages, and if they are not we caution that we plan to carry out further protests.
The undersigned represent the delegation of herders, and we await your response at the following addresses:
 Energy Resources built a paved road from Tavan Tolgoi to the border and the company is currently building a railroad. However, local residents say that the fee for driving on the paved road discourages use and encourages drivers to continue using the free dirt roads. Oyu Tolgoi finished paving their road to the border earlier this summer. The Oyu Tolgoi to Khanbogd road remains unpaved at presents, which makes it an additional source of complaint among residents. However, according to a source at Oyu Tolgoi, there are plans to pave the road in the near future.
About Sara Jackson
Sara has a B.A. in International Studies from the University of Washington and an M.A. in Geography from the University of British Columbia. She began her Ph.D. in Geography at York University in 2009, after lecturing at the Metropolitan State University of Denver and the National University of Mongolia. Her research interests include cultural geographies of resource extraction, environmental displacement, and territory. Sara’s dissertation focuses on infrastructure development of the Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper mine in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert and how natural resources and the nation are re-imagined and materially transformed through the construction of a mining boom. Working with an illustrator, part of her dissertation is a graphic novel that draws from her research experiences to be translated and distributed in Mongolia. The working title of her dissertation is Building a Gold Rush: Imagining New Territories in Mongolia’s South Gobi. A SSHRC doctoral fellowship and a research fellowship with the American Center for Mongolian Studies fund Sara’s research.