Curbing Land Degradation & Protecting the Environment in Mongolia

One of the main Leopard Conservation Centers in Mongolia is
located in Tost Tosonbum mountain, 45 km northwest of the Gurvan
Tes district in the province of South Gobi. The mountain is located
2,517 meters above sea level and has steep peaks and ridges. In
2012, Gurvan Tes local representatives passed a resolution to put
the mountain and its surrounding areas under special state
protection. The resolution was approved by the provincial
authorities during the first discussion and was supported by 81.2
percent of the district inhabitants. Credit: Department of Nature,
Environment and Tourism, South Gobi Aimag/Province.

By Ariunmunkh Munkhjargal, Arushi Sharma, Avimukt Verma, Sarah
Whatnall & Undarmaa Ulziibat
Ulaanbaatar/ New Delhi/ Sydney/ London, May 15 2020 (IPS)

Mongolia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the
world. Yet, more than 70 percent of its surface is affected by land
degradation. Mining activities in several parts of the country have
been a source of humanitarian and environmental concern. However,
different stakeholders are coming together to work towards
restoration and rehabilitation.

The Mongolian economy has been dependent on the mining sector
for many decades. Seven percent of the Mongolian territory is
licensed for mining exploration and exploitation.

The operations of mining companies in Mongolia have negatively
affected herder communities’ livelihoods, cultural traditions and
access to fertile land and clean water. Increasing development of
roads, railways and other infrastructures that support the mining
industry in Mongolia is becoming another threat.

These constructions also infringe on the snow leopard’s
habitat, an animal native to the western and southern parts of the
country.

Dwindling Habitats and Pasturelands
Mongolia is home to the second largest population of snow leopards
in the world, after China. According to the World Bank, there are
between 3,900 and 6,400 snow leopards left in the wilds of twelve
countries today.

Of these, about 1,000 live across the Gobi Desert and Altai
regions of Mongolia. In 2009, the entire mountainous landscape of
the Tost Tosonbumba region was given away to mining licenses. The
mining activities have begun to encroach upon the 1,500 sq. km
where the snow leopards reside in the protected areas and national
parks.

At the same time, the mining has also started to have adverse
effects on pasturelands. About 40 percent of the population is
rural, made up of traditional herders who still follow nomadic and
semi-nomadic lifestyles.

Bayara Agvaantseren, Mongolia Program Director and founder of
the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation (SLCF), recalled how the
local people felt when the mining first started in the Tost
region.

Elusive and enigmatic, the endangered snow leopard inhabits some
of the world’s most rugged and remote terrains, like those in
Mongolia, where about 1,000 live across the fragmented mountains of
the Gobi Desert and Altai regions.
Credit: The World Bank Group/Saving the ‘Mountain Ghosts’ in
Mongolia.

They were confused and felt that their way of life was being
disrupted: “By the law, the mining companies have to get their
proposal to be discussed at the first level of community meetings.
Then, if the community approves that company’s proposal to work
in the area, they would go to higher levels of decision-making. But
we saw that in the actual on-the-ground decision-making process,
the discussions with the local communities are not really
happening, as they are mainly being done by higher levels.”

Herders have a deep relationship with their land and the
critical resources it provides—water and grazing—to support the
animals that are their primary source of food and cash income.

Rapidly intensifying land degradation and desertification are
placing the future of traditional herders—and the integrity of
the steppe ecosystems that support them—at risk. Mining
exploration and exploitation is increasing rapidly in these
steppes, restricting the amount of land available for herders and
affecting water supplies.

Working to Retain Ecosystem Integrity
Over the last decade, the SLCF, with the Snow Leopard Trust, have
been working to revoke some mining licenses within the protected
areas. In 2016, a nature reserve was set up between the Great Gobi
National Park and the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park. The two
national parks are now in a row, providing a much larger space for
the endangered cats to roam around.

Local people were actively involved in campaigning and lobbying
to make Tost a nature reserve. The foundation worked with local
people to spread knowledge and make them aware of their rights to
make decisions on land use. Moreover, the local people realized
that their voice could be heard if they worked collectively.

Initially, citizens created several petitions and addressed
high-level decision makers to voice their concerns over the mining
industry. But on many occasions, the government had already granted
licenses, leaving local communities feeling powerless.

Because of this, the SLCF stepped in to defend community rights:
“From these cases and campaigns I see that local people have
learned how to defend their rights. They had been campaigning with
us for the last 7 years to make Tost a nature reserve.”

After securing Tost as a nature reserve, the herders continued
campaigning to revoke the mining licenses for a smaller area
outside of Tost, which was used by vegetable growers. The
government consented to their demands and included the land in the
protected area of the nature reserve.

With the setting up of the reserve, there are additional
opportunities to develop ecotourism in the area to benefit the
local people. The Ministry of Nature and Environment has signed a
contract with the government of the province to run the national
park, but the process is still underway: “Stakeholders of this
park are local people, a local government team. Also, SLCF has
expressed that we are willing to help them build capacity to run
the national park. In creating this management mechanism and
management planning, we have been doing lots of workshops with
these stakeholders and are now coming to the conclusive stage of
finalizing management planning.”

The Power of Environmental Activism
SLCF also helps local people to advocate their concerns to key
decision makers. It runs a long-term ecological research programme
in Tost Tosonbumba. Under the programme, the local people learn how
to use scientific data, which is made available from international
bodies and local conservation organizations.

Alongside this, they run educational programmes for school
children aged 11–13 years. The programme intends to develop
responsible representatives who are aware of how irresponsible
mining poses risks to land, soil, water and biodiversity.

Local people, when empowered with the right information and
resources, can emerge as great advocates and activists to protect
community land. Batmunkh is a 75-year-old activist born in the
Dornogovi province, and he has successfully protected 19 places
under the “Locally Special Protected Areas.”

He says: “I am not against mining developments, but I believe
that mining should operate hand in hand with rehabilitation work. I
think it should be done in a fair and regular fifty-fifty
manner.” Watch the full
video interview with Batmunkh on YouTube
.

Another important community player is Surenkhuu.L, a 59-year-old
herder woman who lives in Tost Mountain, Gurvantes Soum, in the
South Gobi Province of Mongolia. In 2009, she was selected as the
Tost community leader by her fellow herders.

Since then, she has been managing a community group of 25
households as a part of the Snow Leopard Enterprise (SLE) program.
Surenkhuu played a leading role in representing her community
members when petitioning for protection of the snow leopard
population.

In 2015, she gave a rousing speech at the Presidential Civil
Hall Meeting, which received nationwide media coverage. The
collective mission to turn Tost into a nature reserve took six
years to come to fruition, but the efforts of community players
like Surenkhuu were central to securing its success.

These stories are proof that the mining sector needs to take
into consideration various social, environmental and humanitarian
concerns. Backed by the right tools, the community has the power to
come together to protect their rights and the environment.

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this story are those
of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the United
Nations, including UNDP or the UN Member States.


Young Environmental Journalist pilot initiative
is aimed at
raising awareness and fostering youth engagement in environmental
and human rights protection in the mining sector in four
resource-rich countries: Colombia, Kenya, Mongolia and
Mozambique.

This initiative was organized by the joint Swedish Environmental
Protection Agency – UNDP Environmental Governance Programme (EGP)
in collaboration with the United Nations Volunteers’ online
volunteering service.

The post
Curbing Land Degradation & Protecting the Environment in
Mongolia
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Ariunmunkh Munkhjargal, Arushi
Sharma
, Avimukt Verma, Sarah
Whatnall
and Undarmaa Ulziibat are part
of a team of Young Environmentalist Journalists*

The post
Curbing Land Degradation & Protecting the Environment in
Mongolia
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Curbing Land Degradation & Protecting the
Environment in Mongolia