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Nomad Green: Why The Mongolian ‘Ninjas’ Keep On Digging?

Categories: Feature, Nomad Green
Ninja gold miners digging in evaporated river. Image by Flickr user chenyingphoto. CC BY [1]

Ninja gold miners digging in evaporated river. Image by Flickr user chenyingphoto. CC BY

Gold production in Mongolia is growing rapidly and it saw a seventeen-fold increase between 1991 and 2001 [2]. But the real boost came in July 2001, when a Canadian company called Ivanhoe Mines found a large gold and copper deposit [3] at Oyu Tolgoi [4] (turquoise hill). Foreign investment in the country on explorations soared. And the great Mongolian gold rush began with mining companies from around the world coming to the Gobi desert.

But not only the mining companies, this gold rush has also changed some of the lives of the Mongolian poorest. Thousands of people, called the “Ninjas”, have left home to take up digging and sifting for gold full-time. Otgonsuren Jargal writes [5] in the Nomad Green blog:

A Ninja gold miner. Image by Chenyingphoto. CC BY [6]

A Ninja gold miner. Image by Chenyingphoto. CC BY

“Ninja”–or artisan miners–in Mongolia means people who dig dirt, live outlaws and seek for gold on old/used mining fields. There are around 5000 artisan miners working in Uyanga soum (village) of Uvurkhangai aimag (province) in Mongolia, today.

There was some false information saying that the number of ninjas was decreasing in last few years. Actually the number increased to 10,000 during summer season at the area where Ongi river starts which is the range named Taats coming from Khangai mountain.

The average ninja earns about $10 in a week. Lured by this small fortune, they consist of not only destitute, many students on summer break come to search for golds in potential locations with their parents to help pay tuition. But their work damages the environment. Otgonsuren Jargal explains:

Image by Chenyingphoto. CC BY [7]

Image by Chenyingphoto. CC BY

The evaporation of Ongi river made many who live in Gobi suffer for past ten years. Mongolia is the most effected area from desertification, especially in Gobi, the water is a really hard issue at this moment. The Ongi river was the only one water resource of Gobi's life. But, there are more than 10,000 ninjas digging dirt at the very beginning of this river and destroying and poisoning the source of water.

A group of journalist including Nomad Green members and Italian journalist Gabriele came to this place to report about the artisan miners.

Many people were working here and there between dump, picking up some dirt and washing them in the pools among the hills. You can see a lot of ghers /traditional Mongolian yurt/ of different shapes-round and roofless and tumbledown etc. These were the accommodation of ninjas.

Here is the video they produced:

They saw that excavators were destroying the highest dump which is called “Eifel” by local people.

The rest of this big mountain will be diminished if they continue digging for another 10 years.

The gold rush is not going to end anytime soon. The Gold price across the world have reached an all-time high at $1100 an ounce and it is predicted to rise further [8]. Christian A. DeHaemer at Wealthdaily puts it this way [8]:

You may not be aware of it, but there is a new gold mine in Mongolia. In fact, it is the world's largest — a mine bigger than the state of Ohio!

The spending on this mine will double the GDP of Mongolia. That's right — double… which means Mongolia will become to Central Asian minerals what Dubai is to Middle Eastern oil.

So the Ninja miners will not be stopping any time soon.

The droughts in Mongolia are a big problem which decreases production of wheat and other crops. However Mandah shares [9] an expert opinion:

Mungunbaatar, coordinator of “Rain richness” state manufacturing agency says “Having rain by shooting rain clouds has great economic efficiency”.

Meanwhile the Nomad Green citizen journalists continue to write about their trip to Taiwan [10]. Botanist Dorjgotovariungerel writes [11] how environmentally friendly the Taiwanese people are. Dorjgotovariungerel thinks that the irresponsible action and processing of Mongolians have already brought desertification and land degradation in the country and they could use the examples of the Taiwanese people to turn things around.

Lunch at Tea firm. Image by Ariungerel, Nomad Green. [12]

Lunch at Tea firm. Image by ariungerel, Nomad Green.

Dorjgotovariungerel also writes [13] about the experience of the Nomad Green team who visited a tea garden and factory in Taiwan.

They cook all meal in the tea such as bean, cans and rice. All food was very delicious.