Kumtor gold mine, Krygyzstan


Kumtor gold mine in Krygyzstan has been a centre of conflict on and off since its operations began 20 years ago. The mine is situated in a remote area with very few people living in its vicinity at its high altitude (over 4000 metress), in the Tian Shan mountain range, near the border with China and has been operated by Centerra Gold (Canadian company) since 1997. However, there are communities living downstream in the valleys below that depend on the glacial meltwater for their rivers and sustenance.

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Basic Data
NameKumtor gold mine, Krygyzstan
CountryKyrgyz Republic
ProvinceIssyk Kul province
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Water access rights and entitlements
Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Mineral processing
Specific CommoditiesGold
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsIn 2014 the company expects production of 600 000 oz of gold at cost between USD 833 and 909.
Project Area (in hectares)5,000
Level of Investment (in USD)1,200,000,000 (since 2009)
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date1995
Company Names or State EnterprisesCenterra Gold from Canada - Canada-based company owning majority share in Kumtor mine
Relevant government actorsParliament, President of Krygyzstan
International and Financial InstitutionsUnited States Agency for International Development (USAID) (USAID) from United States of America
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersKarek, Tree of Life, Transparency International, Bankwatch, MiningWatch Canada
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Mine tailing spills, Waste overflow, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
OtherImpact on glaciers
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other Health impacts
OtherCyanide spill
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Militarization and increased police presence
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
New legislation
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Development of AlternativesPolitical opposition asks for nationalization
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.One political party asks for nationalization, but not for stopping the mine. Despite Centerra's Kumtor open pit mine having had several setbacks since the project started in 1994, including a cyanide spill, threats of nationalisation, riots and, more recently, a $300-million ecological damages lawsuit, the project continues in operation.
Sources and Materials

Kronenberg, J., 2013, Linking ecological economics and political ecology to study mining, glaciers and global warming, Environmental policy and governance, 23, 75-90
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Article on a proposed glacier law
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One of several good reports by Bankwatch
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The Economist 2013, article on Kumtor
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Several reports on protests, demands for nationalization in BBC news, also pictures, 2012-13
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Al Jazeera
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Media Links

Bankwatch video
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Flowers of Freedom, documentary film. Seven year after the cyanide spill – in which the Kyrgyz government does nothing – a handful of courageous women begin to fight for the rights of the victims. Erkingül and her fellow campaigners found a small environmental organisation, block the road leading to the mine and eventually manage to secure 3.7 million US dollars in compensation from the Kyrgyz -Canadian gold mine.
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorJ. Bloomer and J Martinez-Alier
Last update28/06/2014
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