National Geographic : 2009 Jan
• miners, big and small, who are willing to accept. At one end of the spectrum are the armies of poor migrant workers converging on small- scale mines like La Rinconada. According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), there are between 10 million and 15 million so-called artisanal min- ers around the world, from Mongolia to Brazil. Employing crude methods that have hardly changed in centuries, they produce about 25 percent of the world s gold and support a total of 100 million people. It s a vital activity for these people---and deadly too. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the past decade, local armed groups ght- ing for control of gold mines and trading routes have routinely terrorized and tortured miners and used pro ts from gold to buy weapons and fund their activities. In the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan, the military, along with security forces of an Anglo-Australian gold com- pany, forcibly evicted small-scale miners and burned their villages to make way for a large- scale mine. Thousands of protestors against expansion of a mine in Cajamarca, Peru, faced tear gas and police violence. The deadly effects of mercury are equally hazardous to small-scale miners. Most use mercury to separate gold from rock, spread- ing poison in both gas and liquid forms. UNIDO estimates that one-third of all mer- cury released by humans into the environment comes from artisanal gold mining. is turns places like La Rinconada into a sort of Shangri- la in reverse: e pursuit of a metal linked to immortality only serves to hasten the miners own mortality. At the other end of the spectrum are vast, open-pit mines run by the world s largest min- ing companies. Using armadas of supersize machines, these big-footprint mines produce three-quarters of the world s gold. They can also bring jobs, technologies, and development to forgotten frontiers. Gold mining, however, generates more waste per ounce than any other metal, and the mines mind-bending disparities of scale show why: ese gashes in the Earth are so massive they can be seen from space, yet the particles being mined in them are so microscopic that, in many cases, more than 200 could t on the head of a pin. Even at showcase mines, such as Newmont Mining Corporation s Batu Hijau operation in eastern Indonesia, where $600 million has been spent to mitigate the environmental impact, there is no avoiding the brutal calculus of gold mining. Extracting a single ounce of gold there---the amount in a typical wedding ring---requires the removal of more than 250 tons of rock and ore. AS A GIRL GROWING UP on the remote Indonesian island of Sumbawa, Nur Piah heard tales about vast quantities of gold buried beneath the mountain rain forests. They were legends--- until geologists from an American company, Mile-wide Batu Hijau, a copper and gold mine, generates profits and problems on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. Opened in 2000 by U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation, the huge mine employs 8,000 Indonesians. But massive amounts of waste rock have buried rain forest. Operators expect gold to run out in about 20 years. Brook Larmer wrote about the Yellow River for the May 2008 special issue on China. Randy Olson portrayed China s middle class for the same issue.