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Effects of climate change put Mongolian herders at risk, new research shows

Tony Whitten's picture
Mongolian livestock herders will be at greater risk of severe weather conditions if issues are not addressed urgently. (Photo courtesy of Nomad Tales under a Creative Commons license)

In my last blog post, I wrote about UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s recent visit to Mongolia, in which he discussed the country’s vulnerability to climate change. Around the time of his visit, the World Bank issued a press release with preliminary results from a study, released under our Netherlands-Mongolia Trust Fund for Environment Reform, otherwise known as NEMO (nothing to do with Disney’s cute fish). One wouldn’t normally go public on something unfinished but, encouraged by our erstwhile Director for China and Mongolia, David Dollar we felt that even the preliminary results were important and worth sharing.

We found that Mongolian livestock herders will be at greater risk of severe weather conditions if the growing livestock populations and deteriorating rangeland are not addressed urgently. Similar statements have been made in the past, but the new results from the field appear to be the first quantitative evidence from long-term monitoring plots. The NEMO work measured the vegetation in multiple plots set up by the Asian Development Bank in 1998 but not revisited until now. So far the plots in the Forest-Steppe region of Zavkhan aimag (province) and in the Desert of Gobi Altai aimag have been re-measured and in both areas the researchers had found a disturbing decline in rangeland quality.

Comments

Submitted by Gunchi on
I fully support your project on monitoring land vegetation, so that quantitative results can be presented and the rate deterioration measured. As you wrote, many more monitoring plots through out the country is needed. During my research, I have noted that many herders are becoming more sedentary. Although as you say they are more knowledgeable than 'experts', young generation does not follow traditional methods of grazing animal. As you probably know, many 'new herders' have emerged after the shift to market economy. Herd composition is another issue. Only cashmere has become the high value product. And it isn't herders' fault that they are now raising more goats than other types of animal. As a household they are choosing the product that yields the highest profit, as each herder family supporting several people studying/working in the city. I do not think that any persuasive measures to reduce their goat numbers will work, unless other animal product prices will increase. To my understanding, factors such as unregulated cutting of trees and mining operations are having the biggest impact on pasture land degradation. They are leading to the change of ecosystems as a whole. Hence, I think that World Bank and other donors should focus on improving the institutional environment of mining sector, environment and support processing industry of animal products so that animal related product prices increase and herders will be willing to raise other animals than goats.

Submitted by Sudarshan P regmi on
I am doing Ph D in agricultural economics. I would like to take this opportunity that the actual relation ship woth the output of pasture to the lively hood has been little understanding specisly to Nepalese context. the anlytical tools are still to be worked out and the implicationd to the policy are not in position to impliment. Range land improvement to herder is stit to be known. the seeds they have never seen to be regenerate their pasture. they even donot know whether this is their community peoperty or it belongs to government, still they are grazing the pastureland without knowing the carring capacity and its management. Are they exploiting or over utilizing the Natural Resources. Without developing any tools to measure such a situation there is no quetion of CLIMATE CHANGE. CLIMATE CHANGE CANNOT BE MEASURED IN ONE YEAR DATA OR SO. IT NEED ABOUT AND MORE THAN 20-25 YEARS OF DATA. How it could be possible to draw based on CPR senario. Thanks

Submitted by sukhgerel on
I agree with Gunchi that World Bank and other donors should provide more practical advice on mitigating mining industry impact on the environment and population's livelihoods. As stated by WB the agricultural sector employs 40% of Mongolia's workforce. It however does not provide statistics on the percentage of jobs provided by mining and the size of land that is being seized by this sector from crop, herding and tourism sectors. How should government prepare for forced shrinkage of other sectors? WB is recommending that livestock sector should shrink. What is to happen with crop and tourism sectors? Gobi Altai Desert is mentioned in the above article. It does not mention South Gobi aimag most of which is covered by mining licenses and operations. Gobi is or was the prime tourism destination in the recent past. What's the plan here? No mention is made of impact on the encroachment on protected park areas. WB should take stock of impact of its pollicy advice on the environment, climate change and livelihoods of the population.

Submitted by Tony.Whitten on
Thanks for your email. There are a number of quite new World Bank publications which are relevant to your comments. Under our NEMO project (see www.worldbank.org/nemo) the government has produced guidleines for land rehabilitation of mining sites and we are continuing work on that. We are also just about to put online (in Mongolian and English) Mongolia's first strategic environmental assessment on the regional impacts of mining and infratsructure in the Southern Gobi Region. In a month or so we will also put online a report on Southern Gobi Region groundwater and another on livestock issues and wildlife in the same area. Check the Publications section of www.worldbank.org.mn now and again to find these reports. You will also be intersted in reports online on Safeguarding Important Areas of Natural Habitat Alongside Economic Development on http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/EASTASIAPACIFICEXT/MONGOLIAEXTN/0,,contentMDK:22074284~pagePK:1497618~piPK:217854~theSitePK:327708,00.html, and the Directory of Important Bird Areas of Mongolia- Key Sites for Conservation on http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/EASTASIAPACIFICEXT/MONGOLIAEXTN/0,,contentMDK:22074345~pagePK:141137~piPK:141127~theSitePK:327708,00.html On your question on statistics on the percentage of jobs provided by mining and the size of land that is being seized by this sector from crop, herding and tourism sectors, I will send this on to some of my colleagues. You should also take a look at www.zuil.mn - an online tool to identify where Mongolia's vertebrate species which will be a great tool for environmental impact assessments. Lastly, watch out in the Mongolian press on March 9/10 for news on the new online database of environmetal assessments. I hope this is helpful.

Submitted by Anonymous on
My knowledge base of these issues is not large or sophisticated. However, I've recently seen a film and heard a radio programme about nomadic life in the South Gobi, and about the imminent arrival of large-scale mechanised mining in the area , which seems an answer to 30% poverty in Mongolia. I feel worried that there are so many examples worldwide of insensitively-managed large industry/mining initiatives degrading the culture and lifestyle of countries, and changing the nature of the terrain and its traditional use forever. The psychological costs to a people of losing a way of life, its traditions and culture can be devastating, and hard to repair. Some cultures have been degraded, and people in that country left without a sense of their own identity, or any pride in their heritage. This is profoundly damaging. Without any special expertise in this area, I nevertheless hope that the scale of such industrialisation will move at a slow pace and be carefully restrained, or the effects could destroy the special character of Mongolia and its people, and lead to widespread demoralisation..

Submitted by Morgan K. on
Dear Anonymous, As a consultant for the Community Relations and Sustainable Development (CRSD) department at Oyu Tolgoi (www.ot.mn), one of South Gobi’s most significant mining projects, I am pleased to say that I share your concerns. Cultural heritage is an often-neglected area of impact for large-scale mining projects, but one that Oyu Tolgoi (OT) takes quite seriously. As such, OT is in the process of designing a long-term Cultural Heritage Program (CHP) in collaboration with an international consultant team of cultural heritage experts. Through the development and implementation of a Cultural Heritage Program (CHP), Oyu Tolgoi seeks to minimize, mitigate, understand, and manage cultural heritage impacts that occur in the project’s impact area. The Program will feature an integrated approach to cultural heritage, defining cultural heritage as both the tangible and intangible aspects of human socio-cultural traditions and identity, including, but not limited to, sites of historic or archaeological importance, material objects, artistic traditions, spiritual practices, knowledge and oral histories, strategies related to natural resource utilization and livelihood, as well as cultural values, perspectives, and aspects of individual and/or group identity. The CHP will take practical and reasonable measures to prevent cultural heritage degradation, evaluate and understand cultural change, promote the preservation and appreciation of cultural heritage, engage relevant stakeholders in long term cultural heritage initiatives, and implement internal policies and procedures among OT personnel and contractors that aim to minimize negative cultural impacts whenever possible throughout the lifecycle of the OT project. The design of this program will commence in May 2010 and last 12 months. The program design process will feature extensive cultural baseline studies and surveys, stakeholder engagement, and impact assessments, and recommendations of program components. Launch of the CHP is expected to take place in mid 2011. The anticipated duration of the program is life-of-mine (50+ years), and will be implemented by a variety of stakeholders including the company, civil society, public sector institutions, and others. Updates on the program design and implementation process will be posted at www.ot.mn, or can be obtained by contacting the following individuals: Morgan Keay, CHP Program Consultant E mail: morgank@ot.mn Tserennadmid O., CHP Program Coordinator E mail: tserennadmiso@ot.mn

Submitted by OT Worker on
I've been reading at length on the changes in Mongolia as a result of mining (Tavan Tolgoi and Oyu Tolgoi) and have recently spent a month in Ulaanbaatar and paid a visit to the Oyu Tolgoi mine. I've seen a number of articles about water shortage threats, desertification effects, and damage to the traditional herder lifestyle. Although I imagine this to be a real possibility, the real environmental damage that I could see was the oil and coal burning in Ulaanbaatar. The city has changed horrendously in the last few years and will continue to do so with the influx of country folk and westerners. Will anything be done about the pollution? The following article has been the only one to breach the subject, albeit a bit weak on the subject. It would be interesting to see what the Mongolian government does to rectify this issue: http://www.loveperth.com.au/post/2012/01/31/Australian-Mining-Giants-to-Deprive-Mongolians-of-Way-of-Life.aspx

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