There was a plane full of Westerners; all heading out to Mongolia for a mining convention and RM was in the middle of it. Their paths would diverge however: he was on one of several survey/feasibility trips at the behest of his enterprising clients. His in-flight companions were set to lay claim to favourable blocks on the starting grid for the anticipated Mongolian gold-rush. Literally, figuratively, all ways. Well what else would they be there for, ultimately? A third world country sitting on a treasure chest of virgin natural resources? Add to that an expeditionary force of Western specialists, stinking of cash. You do the maths. That was, what – three, four years ago?
A testament to Mongolia’s up-and-coming status no doubt, and the boom is indeed still booming. The last time I checked (about 20 seconds ago), Mongolia was “one of the world’s fastest growing economies with forecasters predicting GDP growth of 18-20 percent (during 2013)”. That’s according to The Diplomat website, whilst Le Journal International announce 2013 as “The Year of Mongolia”, sighting two mines that are set to hollow out respective areas of the Gobhi desert in the unrelenting probing for “gold, carbon, copper, and uranium”. Not to mention the “oil, coal and gas” that – RM reminded me – is also on Mongolia’s international menu.
Meanwhile, back in Ulaanbaatar, modern, glazed architectural spectaculars blossom, and wealthy residential districts rise out of the dirt. All spoors of a new wealthy over-class, happy to quite literally sell the ground from underneath the country’s collective feet, as the distance between earth-bound Ger and soaring penthouse widens socially, financially, literally: again all ways. A new India perhaps, with the potential for unimaginable extremes of luxury and poverty tripping over each other’s feet?
Already, complaints filter in about health concerns for both the Gobhi residents and their livestock in the wake of the mining construction programmes, over the veils of contaminating dust they kick up and the inevitable drain on natural resources.
These are of course the burdens of ‘incidental’, non-share-holding Ger dwellers who – let’s face it – have only poured generations of their lives and culture into the region: nothing that a fast buck wouldn’t casually knock aside in the greed stampede – given half a chance.
To make the process palatable on all sides, the assassin arrives with outstretched hands laden with gifts, deals hard to refuse, incentives to encourage – no, NOT force – the nomads to give up ownership of their ancestral land. Yes: ownership, as Mongolian property law (according to The Atlantic) is stacked heavily in favour of those who have already claimed the ground beneath their own feet. Instead, it’s softly-softly; with compensations of actual value: education, jobs, money, farming facilities – things that not even the government provide, or commitments that they have already reneged upon. It all makes for quite a dilemma for the herdsmen; which particular devil do you make your pact with?
RM had indeed left the country with some encouraging things to say about the state of progress. A nod – or was it more – toward “renewable energy: wind, geo-thermal and solar”, all as part of the desire to be recognised in the modern world. These are concerns on international and domestic stages after all. Just lip service? I don’t know.
You would just have to hope that an “emerging” nation could somehow leap-frog the historical tribulations of our Industrial Revolutions, and drop-in somewhere ahead on the timeline; where social and environmental concerns have clicked in, quality of life is good for all and renewable energy has wrestled the power-grip from the destructive hands of short-term selfishness. But hell: we aren’t even there yet! I can just imagine a procession of “I-told-you-so” developmental disasters waiting to march through Mongolia’s future history.
However, RM with some insider knowledge – and perhaps via a degree of rumour – spoke to me of a moratorium on unregulated, rampant building programmes; that someone with the foresight to see the bumps ahead had at last hit the brakes in time to think. You have to hope that’s the case.
Well, it just might be. See next week for an intriguing revelation, as a post-script to Mongolia by proxy, which started with this post.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 107) Dreams made concrete #5
[Photo by David Berkowitz]