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Geography and geopolitics

By most standards Khaidarkan is remote, wedged in the precipitous mountains of south-west Kyrgyzstan and reached by a narrow road over a 2,300-metre pass. The mercury mine and smelter date from 1941, from the days of the Soviet Union. The mine equipment and infrastructure were located at Khaidarkan following evacuation of industrial facilities from Ukraine during the Second World War. The Khaidarkan region had exploitable mercury deposits and it was unthinkable that the enemy could reach
  Central Asia. The remoteness of the mine, which was an advantage during the war, is now considered a challenge to the further economic development of the region.
Significant mercury reserves remain at deeper depths at Khaidarkan, but investment has not been forthcoming to allow their exploitation. Even if this were possible, there are also significant cash flw challenges, which impact on workers’ pay. The region, much as many other regions

  Why Khaidarkan is the only one still producing

While other mines have long closed their mining activities within Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in the world, Khaidarkan remains the only operation which supplies primary mined mercury to the global market place. Mines in Slovenia and Algeria have ceased operations due to economic and technical difficulties, others like the Almaden mine in Spain also experienced pressure from growing international concern regarding mercury pollution which led to closure of this, the biggest mercury mine in the world in 2004. China also has some mines but it is believed that their production remains within the country.

So why is Khaidarkan the only one still mining mercury for the global market? The main reason is the economic challenges facing Kyrgyzstan, particularly the region where the mine is located. The company that manages the complex has been struggling with fluctuating mercury prices and continuous technical difficulties such as low ore grades and flooding of shafts with underground water. Many times the state-owned company has had to request subsidies and state support for continuing its operations and the initial efforts to privatize the mine did not yield results. Due to a lack

  of international regulations and control, Khaidarkan
primary mercury is still in demand on the international
market which contributes to the continuation of mining operations.

The Khaidarkan plant remains important to the local community, both as a source of income and also
for the people’s identity. Before mining started in the
early 1940s, there was no urban settlement in Khaidarkan, people came with the mine to be miners. At its height about 12,000 people lived there, now it is
below 10,000. For them it is their home, they do not
want to leave. In other places in Kyrgyzstan where
industry vital to a town’s existence has collapsed,
people have been forced to leave, many ending up
in the outskirts of Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek where
they try to make a living. The government seeks to
avoid these movements commonly associated with
increased poverty by keeping relevant industries alive
as long as possible. While it is recognized that mercury mining poses environmental risks, the means to invest in new industries or restructure the regions that could help the transition away from such activities
have to date been very limited.





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