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Riders under Storms

Nomadic herdsmen in Mongolia & Climate Change

Story by Climate Adaptation UNDP October 26th, 2015


…is one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries, with an area almost as large as Western Europe but with less than 1/10 the population. Much of its land is covered by grassy steppe with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south.

To this day, at least 25% of the population lives a nomadic life, dependent on this vast open land for survival. However, climate change in recent years has rendered their lifestyle difficult to maintain. Extreme weather events including droughts, flash flooding and harsh winters are more common. Unsustainable agriculture and development practices further accelerate the deterioration of the country’s land and water resources and ecosystem services.

In the past 30 years, nearly a quarter of the land in Mongolia has turned to desert and thousands of lakes and rivers have dried out.

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Adapting to climate change

Maintaining sufficient water supplies for the mountain and steppe ecosystems is one of the most serious issues faced in Mongolia. The government of Mongolia started a project in 2012 in two targeted eco-regions, the Altai Mountain/Great Lakes Basin and the Eastern Steppe, to find better tactics for grazing management, restoration of riparian zones and efficiency of water use. This will make water resources and pasture more resilient to climate change. The project is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funded by the Adaptation Fund.
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Green houses

For the communities like Kharkhiraa and Turgen in the west and Ulz river basin in the east of Mongolia, getting fresh vegetables and fruit is now no longer a problem.

Twelve greenhouses have been built for vegetable production, which helps the herders to strengthen their adaptability to climate change. The production increased their income and for the first time in their life, they now enjoy the delicious taste of strawberry.

A number of climate change adaptation technologies to save water and protect soil were introduced in places like Bayandun, Bayan-Uul, Chuluunkhoroot, Choibalsan soums of Dornod aimag, Norovlin soum of Khentii aimag and Ulaangom, Turgen, Tarialan, Naranbulag and Khovd soum of Uvs aimag since 2014. Techniques including greenhouse farming, drip irrigation systems, strawberry planting and preserving, and reducing soil erosion through agro-forestry have been introduced to local communities.

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B. Batmunkh and his wife B. Namjil, citizens of Dashbalbar soum, Dornod aimag, participated in a series of vegetable garden trainings organized by the project. The family used to grow only potatoes, but after the trainings, they learnt to grow many other vegetables, such as pumpkin and watermelon. They are now familiar with organic farming techniques, including proper irrigation schemes, use of organic fertilizers and agro-forestry.

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Water is treasure

When communities started planting vegetables and fruits like strawberries, one of the issues they faced was inadequate water supplies. In order to solve this issue, a water efficient drip irrigation system was introduced, replacing the use of the old-fashioned non-environmental friendly techniques. Communities increased their income by selling strawberries they grew for a price of USD 8-13 per kilogram. The exotic fruit is always high in demand.

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water user groups

Upstream users and downstream users in the Turgen/Kharkhiraa river basin used to have a lot of disputes regarding water usage. Now, things have changed. The project facilitated the establishment of Water User Groups in three soums in Uvs aimag, which helped the local community to plan on water use and set up joint monitoring.

Two traditional rain and snow melts catchment facilities were constructed in Turgun soum with total volume of 3000m3 and the potential to provide 10 thousand heads of livestock with drinking water for 2 months during the extended dry season.

Pilot design and engineering drawings for two small-scale water harvesting structures were initiated in Ulz river basin in June, 2015 with co-financing of 45 million Tugriks (USD 22,000.00) by Dornod Aimag Environmental Protection Agency. The size and capacity are expected to be 24.25 km2 drainage basin, 8.29 km long with 7.7-12.2 m3/sec water flow for irrigation of tree, vegetable, and fodder fields, as well as providing access for livestock and wildlife to watering and haymaking areas.

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UNDP-supported vocational training has enabled women to run small businesses such as felt and wool processing, dairy processing, and organic farming. Kh. Narantuya, a community member of Turgen soum, Uvs aimag made an additional income for her daugther’s tution fee by selling wool products.

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Glacier monitoring post in Turgen mountain

Mongolian mountains play a vital role in the regional ecosystem, but in recent years, snowcap and glaciers on the peaks of the mountains have been melting because of climate change.
Collecting data on the current state of the glaciers is important to observe the impact of climate change. By setting up a glacier monitoring station, the project is helping to strengthen the hydrological monitoring capacity of the country.
The monitoring camp is located in the Turgen mountains in the west of Mongolia, 3000 m above sea level. Designed with energy efficiency, the camp was built under challenging conditions with the help from local communities. Construction materials were transported by different means, ranging from trucks to traditional pack animals like horses, yaks and camels.

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spring protection

There are now 26 springs in 9 target soums which are protected and rehabilitated with environmentally sound techniques. More than 300 people representing relevant soum authorities, local communities and Soum coordinators were involved in the activities and learnt about the new techniques to rehabilitate springs. The knowledge will be passed on to others in their local community.
The protection of the spring have now rehabilitated over 117,000 ha abandoned pasture, providing drinking water for 500 local residents and 69,500 livestock.

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Footnote: Story by Jin Ni, Edited by Chimeg Junai, Tuya Tserenbataa, Midori Paxton & Erin Charles. Photos by Midori Paxton & EBA Project staff