Water Journal : Water Journal August 2013
POSTCARD FROM THE SOUTH GOBI DESERT -- from Kenny Liew Sain Baan Uu...! Greetings from a land rich in history, civilisation and, until recently, mining resources. In July 2011, I was asked to be part of the commissioning team on the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine project in Mongolia. At the time, I was asking questions such as: "Going to where? Mongolia? Do they have Mongolian BBQ's?" After doing some background research and getting over the initial surprise, I decided to take the plunge into what has been a challenging but rewarding experience for a young engineer. While much of its ancient history dates back to a time when the Mongolian Empire ruled vast lands under the regime of the great Genghis Khan (pronounced "Chinggis Khaan" by Mongolian nationals), it is only within the last ve years that Mongolia has seen unprecedented economic growth -- largely driven by mining resource exploration -- and is now writing a new chapter in its modern history. EXPERIENCING CITY AND COUNTRY LIFE Initially most of our time was spent in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, where much of the urban transformation is happening at a rapid pace. At times, it can seem dif cult to understand the rate at which this transformation is happening, where high-rise apartments and coffee shops are sprouting up with high speed WIFI available, yet main roads are full of potholes and dif cult to drive on during harsh winters. With a total population of 2.8 million people in Mongolia, only half live within Ulaanbaatar. The other half are spread out in smaller towns around this country the size of Alaska. However, it is in the countryside that most foreigners get to truly experience the nomadic lifestyle, where people live in traditional Ger tents (circular tents that originally date back to the 12th century) and herd their cattle and goats. A big event in the Mongolian calendar that my colleagues and I experienced in the summer time was the Nadaam Festival, traditionally known as the festival of three "manly" events -- archery, horse riding and, my favourite, wrestling. Wrestling is the most popular event and holds a high prestige among the local males. But don't let the maroon underpants fool you -- these are big guys with the intent of putting their opponent into the ground, followed by a walk around the traditional horsehair banner and apping slowly like an eagle to symbolise their win. PUMPING WATER IN THE GOBI DESERT With construction ramping up on site, the commissioning team soon mobilised to the Gobi Desert, where we began commissioning activities on various infrastructure facilities. Being part of the team responsible for commissioning the Raw Water Supply System (which includes 28 bores, six pump stations, an 80-kilometre pipeline, and two storage lagoons pumping aquifer water to the site for mining and treated for site consumption) was a big task and had its own unique challenges along the way. Temperature changes in the desert were extreme, ranging from minus 40°C in the winter to 40°C in the summer; as well as sudden weather events such as light snow, dust storms and heavy rain. Communication was vital in order to test pumping equipment without causing serious damage. Often, this was via radio communication at various locations with multinational expatriates, Chinese and Mongolians talking at the same time (three-way translation often took longer than expected). However, operator training was crucial as many of the Mongolian nationals had never worked at pump stations before. This required patience and understanding till they became con dent in controlling the Raw Water Supply System.
Water Journal June 2013
Water Journal September 2013