Exploitation of natural resources often yields potentially dire environmental consequences such as air, water and soil pollution. Roads around mines deteriorate fast, due to heavy machinery usage. Social implications on local communities such as broken social codes and structures and economic deterioration of women and the elderly have been widely documented. Lastly, damages to the local ecological system are sometimes irreversible.

Several instances of gold mining that caused social and environmental damages in Europe occurred in recent decades. As a result mining corporations are now required to establish corporate responsibility strategy aiming at the establishment of sustainable mining practices that benefit the corporation itself, the community and the environment. Financial institutions now require orderly reports of such strategy as pre-requisite for their involvement in mining projects.

Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is central to this strategy. It entails data collection in and about local communities, and its findings integrated into physical and operational plans for the mine.

The work presented here is an SIA conducted for a European gold mining corporation, at the time it planned a mine in an Asian country.

A previous attempt at gold mining by a different corporation in the area resulted in severe pollution of the river that serves as the main water source to all local communities and rising awareness of local population regarding hazards to the environment and the social infrastructure. Thus, the aim of this SIA was to assess community sentiment to the proposed mine and identify sustainable mode for its development.

Main findings of the SIA can be clustered around two main topics:

- Transparency-trust-local democracy: Local residents were interested mainly in information concerning progress of mine development and its implications on local economy and culture. Most respondents preferred the mining corporation as their source of information rather than local media, community leaders or fellow villagers. Respondents also requested participation in decision making regarding operations with impacts on the environment and community.

- Implications of mine-local economy-environmental damages: Most respondents had positive expectations regarding local economy (i.e. employment opportunities and potential investment of the mining corporation in social services). Over half expressed concerns regarding water and air pollution, and harmful impacts on local flora and fauna.

The survey and personal interviews were conducted by a local survey team proficient in local dialect and cultural codes.

The corporation has since built the mine and started its operation. A joint committee of corporate representatives and local leaders was established, to plan and prioritize social and community interventions. So far, public health services were improved through a mobile clinic and refurbishment of the local children's hospital; an educational program in geology and metallurgy sciences was established for local youth, including training and subsidized employment at the mine; and a cooperative of women carpet weavers recently began operation. Also, the main road in the region is currently being rebuilt and a new training program for park rangers at a nearby nature reserve has been launched.

The presentation will detail the SIA and its contribution to local sustainable development.