The Gobi Altai mountains in Mongolia are a semi-arid region, where nomadic herders migrate every year between their spring, summer and winter camps. To survive they depend on healthy livestock - goats, sheep, cattle, horses, camels and yaks - which need food, water and a safe and warm shelter during the winter.
For some of the 2000 herders of Tseel soum (a district in the Gobi Altai region) their livestock are threatened by the new Tayan Nuur iron mine, owned by the Mongolian company Altain Khuder.
Located only about 168 kilometers from the Chinese border, the Tayan Nuur mine exports its production to steel mills in Mongolia's southern neighbour. Over the course of five years its output increased fivefold to 2.2 million tons in 2013. Because of this aggressive expansion the mine is expected to have a very short lifespan of merely 10 years.
In contrast to Altain Khuder's short-term interest in the region, the Tayan Nuur mine is disturbing a delicate balance that generations of herder families have established.
Trucks transport ore from the mines to China via a nearby gravel road that cuts through animal pasture. The trucks travelling the road create a suffocating amount of dust.
Munkhuu, a local camel herder, says that his animals are getting sick since the trucks started moving ore from the mine.
For Munkhuu and others like him, moving camps is not an option.
Herders have used the same plots of land for generations for a reason, because specific pastures are suited to specific animals, and access to fresh water is an ever-present concern.
Grazing animals travel on their own covering distances in this region between 5 and 50 kilometres before returning to camp.
The new black-top road that is under construction could reduce the dust but the way it is being built at the moment could prevent animals from crossing it safely.
Warm and durable winter camps are herders' most important posession.
Herders stay in their winter camps for six months every year. Over the years, the durable animal shelter gathers many layers of dung that provide insulation from the cold earth - a matter of survival for the animals and their offspring.
Much of the land is owned by the Mongolian state, but the local community decides which family uses which camp (and the surrounding land) and herders can pass on this right within their family.
To respect this customary law, Altain Khuder had to agree with the local community how herders should be compensated for the loss of their land. Yet herders told us that the company instead told them individually that they had to give up their land to make place for the mine.
The goat herder Khoninkhuu tells us how a company representative exploited her trust and made her give up her camp in exchange for 5 million tugrugs (~ 2000 euros), a sum much lower than her camp was worth.
Khoninkhuu was not aware that she could never use her winter camp again.
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Altain Khuder intimidates herders, its financier is idly standing by
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A detailed account of the Tayan Nuur mine's impacts
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Mining in Mongolia and the people it leaves behind
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Herder communities in the serene mountains of Gobi Altai
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Details on the company
A case study on Altain Khuder >>