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Mongolia: Eco-Warriors Call Attention to Economic Development Dilemma

Rickety shacks and rubble from pits is a fixture in all informal mining settlements in Mongolia. (Photo: Pearly Jacob)

In early September at a small outpost 110 kilometers north of the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar, four environmental activists armed with hunting rifles opened fire on gold mining equipment owned by two foreign companies. The incident has come to symbolize the challenges faced by the Mongolian government as it strives to balance environmental protection and economic growth in the development of the country’s immense mineral wealth.

A landlocked nation of steppes and desert, Mongolia is now known mostly as a country of nomadic herders. But vast and sudden changes could be in the works for the country’s roughly 3 million inhabitants. With an estimated $1.3 trillion worth of untapped mineral assets, according to Eurasia Capital, a Hong Kong-based investment bank, the investment world is eagerly eyeing opportunities in Mongolia. Some call it the “Saudi Arabia of Central Asia.” Analysts at Eurasia Capital have predicted the country’s GDP could swell from $5 billion to $30 billion by 2020, based on its mineral resources alone. The pressure on Mongolia -- or ‘Minegolia,’ as some investors call it -- to develop is intense.

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Pearly Jacob is an Ulaanbaatar-based freelance journalist.

Mongolia: Eco-Warriors Call Attention to Economic Development Dilemma

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