I reached the Gobi after a 7 days journey along the Onggi River (1500 Km), joined by activists of the environmental group The Onggi River Movement*.
I was driven by the interest to understand how the proliferation of formal and informal mining in Mongolia is transforming the social and natural landscape of the country. The Onggi River, for instance, is constellated by mining activities that are drying-up the river by practicing unregulated hydraulic mining that use high-pressure water systems to extract gold and other minerals.
Alongside with the expansion of the gold mining industries in Mongolia a complex social phenomenon of artisanal mining (mainly illegal) has unfolded. Artisanal mining is not a longstanding traditional activity in Mongolia, yet it escalated from insignificance to being the main livelihood for tens of thousands of people and became a social safety net for herders who lost their herds in natural disasters (dzuds).
Ninja is the nickname given to most small-scale miners engaged in placer gold mining; their use of a green plastic bowl for panning, carried strapped to their back, triggered the nickname “ninja” by analogy with the ninja turtles television series. (Grayson and Murray, 2003).
ad in.nitum [an homage to invisible labor] is a refection around the increasing phenomenon of the non-regulated and non-recognized artisanal mining in the country. The pattern of gaps and heaps located on a slope in the Baga Gazriin Chuluu has been excavated by using the green plastic panning bowl of the Ninjas as a module that potentially could be repeated ad infinitum.
*Onggi River Movement environmental group was founded in 2001. Its aim is to conduct environmental conservation work, including restoring soils and vegetation, as well as expanding and enforcing mining regulations, passing new legislation, es-tablishing citizen oversight for the entire mining process and starting environmen-tal restoration work. The Onggi river basin originally spans over 437 km, linking the Khangai mountain range down to the Gobi desert, ultimately feeding Ulaan Lake that itself covers an area of 175 km2 and regulates the ecological balance of the Mongolian Gobi Desert. Onggi river now .ows only 100 km, less than a quarter of its natural length, while Ulaan lake has been completely dried up since 1995. Historically, the Onggi River sustained the lives of more than 100.000 people and over one million herds. As Mongolia depends largely on its surface waters, which comprises 70 percent of its water reserves, the depletion of this river system has serious implications. It has indeed led to a shortage of drinking water for over 60,000 people and their herds, to the extent that pastoralists were forced to herd their livestock in other provinces, caus-ing serious problems for pastureland management.