ULAANBAATAR — Working 50 meters (164 feet) under ground with minimal air supply, Uuganbaatar is one of thousands of Mongolians trying to make a living digging for coal.
Although the mining season does not begin until autumn, when the ground freezes and work is safer, the 31-year-old and his colleagues are seeking to gain a head start by digging a shaft in Nalaikh, one of the nine districts of Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, in late June.
But their mine could soon be shut by the government, which has launched an unprecedented crackdown on sites that don’t meet safety standards. That would mean even fewer opportunities for Mongolia’s individual prospectors, who have already been hit hard by the privatization of mines previously open to all.
Miners such as Uuganbaatar dig for coal under loose arrangements with local unions and private companies. “Things seem really tough for private miners now,” said Uuganbaatar, who, like many Mongolians, goes by one name. “All the licenses have been bought up by influential big shots. Whenever you start to dig somewhere, someone shows up and chases us away. It’s impossible to find a place or mine to dig in.”
A weak economy and particularly harsh winters drove herdsman from across Mongolia to Nalaikh’s private mines in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
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