Let’s Rethink Economy Based on Mining and Look to a More Sustainable Future

Serj Tankian

BY SERJ TANKIAN

The recent controversy over Hungary’s transfer of a convicted killer and his subsequent pardon and hero’s welcome in Azerbaijan have really worked to reinforce the international image of Azerbaijan as a nation with a despotic leadership that promotes nonsensical violence. Their only true ally besides Turkey is oil.

Armenia doesn’t have an ally in oil. Nor does it need such ecologically destructive, carbon-based allies. What Armenia needs is a carbon neutral, ecologically sustainable, agriculturally diverse future as its ally.

This is why I have been so outspoken about the current attention being paid to mining, which is dirty and unsustainable, for its promise as a form of so-called economic development in Armenia.

True progress and a solution to Armenia’s economic, environmental, and social challenges will be based on a coordinated effort to support environmentally sustainable agriculture.

This would allow the country to produce all necessary food items, both for domestic consumption and for export. This is strategically important given Armenia’s landlocked status and geopolitical isolation caused by hostile neighboring countries.

Governmental support through tax credits and other subsidies for programs that will contribute to sustainable development in Armenia will create jobs and allow the youth of the country to remain in the country instead of going abroad for labor.

These views are consistent with points I have made at a forum hosted by Civilitas in 2011, in an interview on CivilNet.TV this year, and in a recent video statement expressing concern about unsustainable mining in Teghut Forest.

Further development of mining within our small country is a dangerous and extremely short term solution to our economic woes. The long term effects can best be described by experts from Armenia’s own National Academy of Sciences.

According to the head of the Center for Ecological-Noosphere Studies (CENS), mining has been disastrous for Armenia in terms of public health and the environment. Mine operators have failed to neutralize dangerous contaminants which have been absorbed by soil. The pollutants then pass from agricultural produce to humans, which is especially dangerous for children.

Furthermore, the head of the CENS Environmental Geochemistry Laboratory has stated that 57 percent of Yerevan’s population may be living in contaminated conditions due to ground pollution. The country’s rural fields are being irrigated with water flowing from contaminated sources due to mining operations, she explains.

Farm produce from all of the towns with significant mining operations, including Kapan, Kajaran, Alaverdi, and Akhtala, are laden with heavy metals including mercury, arsenic, and cadmium, according to CENS studies.

The risk was highlighted last month when mining waste poured out of a damaged pipeline belonging to one of the largest copper molybdenum mines in the country. This incident resulted in the release of toxic chemicals for hours into a river in southern Armenia that is used to irrigate farmland.

Given the reality outlined above, I would urge Armenia’s government to re-consider its granted license to develop open-pit mines in and around Teghut Forest, which is one of the most biologically diverse forests in Armenia, and refrain from issuing further mining licenses to the detriment of our environment and sustainable development in Armenia.

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2 Comments

  1. Mike said:

    The case for such a major change in Armenia’s economy needs to itself be framed in economic rather than emotional terms. Some basic numbers can help make the case, and the numbers you quote are consistent (or taken from) wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mineral_industry_of_Armenia

    Examples:
    1. how would you replace the $500M Fortune Oil (or whoever) puts into the economy for a mine?
    2. $600M of exports are from mining annually. $3B of GDP is agriculture. To replace the $600M of exports from mining, you would have to increase production by 20% and also sell all of that increase abroad, assuming the local market for that increase doesn’t exist. what exports products from sustainable agriculture would replace the $600M?
    3. 57% of Yerevan exposed to risk = ~1M people (for argument’s sake) * $100 of medical costs per person plus $1000 in lost productivity = $1B annual lost moneys since the $100 is assumed to stay in the economic system. That $1B replaces the $600M in exports, assuming you can show that $600M of the $1B would have been exportable goods and services.

    I am supportive of ending rapacious mining practices, and I don’t like the Chinese buying into Armenia. I’d much rather form a fund that buys up mines (a la conservation trusts), shuts them down, and replaces them with trees. But only if that new use and additional donations covers the loss in income to the country.

  2. Lilit said:

    The million dollars mentioned by Mike in fact seem to vanish somewhere: in 2010 only 1.37% of the budget of the republic came from mining. Our legislation requires only 4% of the extracted ore value to be paid to the state budget: where does the rest of the national wealth go? (While for example Azerbaijan requires 80% of the extracted oil value to be paid to the state.) Why doesn’t the population of the regions already involved in mining record higher living standards than the rest? Instead it records scaring higher rates in anomal births (both with mental and physical disabilities), cancer, respiratory diseases, etc. The mining companies do not provide even basic medical insurance for their employees and their families. What do the millions mentioned mean for the kids with heavy metal poisoning which leads to DNA mutation?
    Apart from all the millions and billions, there’s another figure that we should not forget about: the territory of our country is less than 30000sq kilometers, which means that we already have a mine per each 60sq kilometers. Where should we, the citizens move to with all the damping tails and contaminated dead zones left to us (for which the mining companies pay 0 drams to the state budget)? And are we going to leave at least anything to the future generations as a strategic reserve, or we should continue putting all the billions into the pockets of foreign mining companies and several corrupted in Armenia?

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