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In Romania: Cleaning Up and Moving On

April 1, 2013

Daniel Kozak, Communications Officer in the World Bank's Romania office, offers this story.
PROJECT MAP

First, there was a hill. Then a coal mine, and now there is a valley with a lake. This is Bodos in 2013, a remote village in the mountains of Transylvania. For years, the only source of income in Bodos was lignite coal mining. That was a blessing and a curse; the mining governed the lives of the locals, and at the same time it shaped the contour of their landscape.

The Bodos mine was one of many. During the communist era in Romania, mines dotted the landscape. In 1989, there were almost 300 mines in operation. By late 1990s, coal mines were draining resources, and Romania's mining operations needed huge subsidies from the government to continue operating. But officials worried that shutting the mines down would throw people out of work and push families into poverty.

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The mines were good, the young had a place to work. Now we are waiting for the investors and tourists. Without money, nothing will move. Close Quotes

Andrei Szabo

Andrei Szabo

Life After Coal Mining?
"The mines were good, the young had a place to work," says Andrei Szabo, age 65. Szabo worked in the Bodos mine for 13 years. Now he is retired. As for the future, both his and his community's, Szabo says he is waiting to see what happens next. "Now we are waiting for the investors and tourists." He adds with an all-knowing smile, "without money, nothing will move."

But the good news, for the Szabos and for Bodos, is that tourism could indeed come to this remote community. With support from the World Bank, Romania was able to close the Bodos mine in an environmentally sound manner, which means the mine's surroundings are clean and toxin-free. Local leaders hope people will find the area perfect for hikes to a nearby fortress and for spending a sunny afternoon outside, next to the lake where the mine used to sit. During the summer, locals from the nearby city of Baraolt picnic on the site of the old coal mine.

"Over 1.5 million tons of coal were carried by truck over that bridge which, of course, collapsed," says Mihaly Szocs, an engineer. Szocs, a miner himself by trade, supervised the mine closure in Bodos. He adds, "Our first objective was that this village is not cut off from the world. So the bridge was reconstructed. The second objective was to protect the village in case of a mining wasteland slide. Finally, our works made sure that water from the mine didn't run through the village."

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Over 1.5 million tons of coal were carried by truck over that bridge which, of course, collapsed. Close Quotes

Mihaly Szocs

Mihaly Szocs
Engineer

Easing the Pain of Change
About 20 other Romanian communities also relied on the same World Bank project that helped Bodos move away from mining. One of the project's goals was to shut the mines down while leaving a minimal impact on the environment. Other parts of the project aimed to create new jobs. Another sponsored improved infrastructure and services for former miners and their families. The idea is to ease the transition away from a mining-based economy and lifestyle. The impact on the government also changes. Between 2002 and 2006, the government closed 235 mines, but Romania's overall coal output barely changed.

The environmental mine closure in Bodos and other communities was, relatively speaking, slow and expensive. Crews had to dig up old waste dumps and remove contaminated dirt. But, over all, Romania was able to return over 100 hectares to nature.

Between 2005-12, over 20 mines were successfully closed. Those closures affected about 650,000 people, who were in turn helped by the new jobs programs and services. Of that 650,000 people, about half of the total number of beneficiaries were women.

In Borsa, tailings stabilization provides safety to the inhabitants and hopes that a clean environment will help sustainable local tourism.