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Social and economic baseline studies for Udokan Project

In 2010 SRK Russia started work on the Udokan Copper Project, the biggest copper deposit in Russia, located in the Kalarsky District of the Zabaikalye Region. The sparse population settled near the Baikal-Amur railway in the 1970-1980s, with an expectation of industrial development, including the proposed Udokan Project. Currently, the population density is extremely low and youth are leaving, due to lack of employment opportunities, making social issues a critical aspect of the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) currently being undertaken by SRK.

The SRK team carried out an environmental and social scoping study and developed detailed terms of reference for the baseline studies, including the social baseline study. Stakeholder engagement was integral to these studies.

The social studies collected data on history, macro- and microeconomics, demography, public health, land use, living standards, social and transport infrastructure, culture and indigenous peoples and the area’s main social problems. Social data obtained from secondary sources (statistics, historical data, requests to state bodies and organisations) showed significant discrepancies from official data, which is quite common for Russia. These discrepancies complicate analysis. Therefore, data was partly checked during interviews with locals, our primary data source. But, primary sources are not always reliable either. For example it became clear the reindeer population estimates may be overstated. So specifying data through interviews can only marginally help companies estimate compensation for reindeer breeders.

The data showed the standard of living in project region is low; approximately 17% of the population has an income below subsistence. Natural resources, although significantly diminished in the last 30 years, still play an important role: almost all local people hunt, fish and collect mushrooms or berries for subsistence. Although the district has potential for industrial development, more than 70% of the district is subsidised.

The baseline studies showed about 500 Evenks (indigenous people) live in Kalarsky District, but few of them hunt and keep reindeer. SRK observed a tendency to degrade traditional cultures, including the nearly complete loss of the Evenk language.

The collected data and baseline studies will be used in the ongoing ESIA for the Udokan Project, along with continuing stakeholders engagement.

Ekaterina Marakanova:

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