>> With little air to breathe. This is one of Mongolia's many small, private mines where 31 year old Ugan Batar makes a living scratching out coal. There's not much else to do for work there, but even his job is under threat. The government is now cracking down on private mines over safety standards and prospectors like these, already struggling, are getting hit hard.
I'm Reuters correspondent Joseph Campbell and I spoke to a number of these small-time miners working under dangerous conditions in Mongolia. I'm told that most of them are former herdsmen who were forced off the grasslands in the late 1990s due to a weak economy, harsh winters, and were forced into the mines to dig up coal.
But now that the economy is weakening and coming off an economic boom, the government is afraid that more people could be forced into the shafts to risk their lives. Alike, a district of Ulaanbaatar was once home to Mongolia's first state mining company. It collapsed in a post-Communist economic crisis of the mid-90s.
The dilapidated ruins of that time scar the landscape. Yiam Batoors and her husband were both miners then and they've run private coal shafts of their own for over a decade. But the government shut them down last month. She says they were operating within safety laws.>>
> More mines will probably be shut down.
In like, life revolves around mining and mining is the main means to support our lives.>> But that's a deadly bargain for many. In the past 25 years official numbers record over 200 fatalities in the local coal mines. Locals told me the real number is hundreds more. But even as the mines close down, the head of the country's official mine rescue units says it won't do much good.
After being shutdown he says the next day, the miners get around the closed shaft and dig in from the other side. Authorities say with more harsh winters and dwindling job prospects, more herders will do what they've done for years and try their luck down in the dark.