In Mongolia, pollution awareness must be raised to prevent further degradation Global Voices
With an area of 1.5 million square kilometers, Mongolia is one of the largest countries on the planet, ranking 18th in height. Its vast territory includes virgin boreal forests, mountainous ecosystems and several types of grasslands called steppes. Inhabited by 3.3 million peopleMongolia is also one of the least populated countries in the world, making it a good choice for biodiversity conservation.
However, over the past three decades, Mongolia’s environment has faced multiple threats, including mining and infrastructure development, overgrazing, exploitation of fossil fuels, desertificationand climate change manifested by unprecedented increases in air temperatures and abnormal precipitation.
Climate change has an impact feed reserves, the composition of plants and the diversity of journey. Likewise, it has led to a steady increase in natural disasters like drought and dzuda difficult climatic situation that causes the mass death of livestock, either due to starvation or extreme cold.
Another source of pollution is people’s daily activities and their approach to the environment.
For example, it is common to find empty vodka bottles in riverbeds that dry up in the summer. On the hills there are shrines of plastic wrappers and cans next to the real shrines erected to pray to the sky god Tenger, a key figure in Mongolian shamanic beliefs. Outside the villages, in the middle of the steppe, there are open landfills. A few kilometers from their homes, the inhabitants of these villages collect the waste they produce during the winter and burn it. In the surroundings, it is possible to see remnants of deformed plastic for many months afterwards.
According to a local expert, the root cause of this situation is the lack of environmental awareness among Mongolians. Batsuren S. is a 37-year-old environmental engineer, graduated from one of the best Mongolian universities and having completed specialized higher education at a famous institute in Southeast Asia, where she now works as a researcher. She asked that her last name and the name of her alma mater remain confidential. She explains:
People in Mongolia do not realize that their actions have consequences. If they leave a bottle in a meadow, this bottle can reach a river, or be eaten by a yak and cause its death. But people are not educated to think that way. They just say, “I want a beer,” or vodka, or water. And they drink, then leave the bottle in the grass.
The Mongols are a young people – which means that they are not fully aware of themselves, on a social level, and that they do not have a deep understanding of the vulnerability of nature, says Batsuren, linking the problem to a recent change lifestyle:
People here were almost exclusively nomads until a few decades ago. They only started to congregate in cities recently, and even today about half the population lives in the traditional nomadic way. In the past, the waste of nomads could be abandoned in nature without too much worry. It consisted of animal carcasses, furs, wood and natural fabrics used for clothing. After a few weeks, the environmental agents would consume it and let it return to what it was before without any damage to the floor.
Nowadays, waste has changed and turned into glass, plastic, metal, gasoline, chemicals. But for people who are unaware of the dangers involved, understanding the impact of spilling these products in nature is not so simple.
According to Gala Davaa from the NGO Nature conservation, most people are aware of climate change to some extent. Especially the younger generations. As he explains:
Part of the new ruling class in Mongolia is extremely concerned about this. And pastoralist communities also understand that some changes are happening. They observe nature every day and find that it behaves differently from the past. A lot of information is circulating on the Internet. However, the institutions do not address the public in a systematic way. And although people agree on the importance of protecting nature, they still have a limited understanding of how to do it.
As he explains, in 1998 the Mongolian government approved a Public Ecological Education Programto be implemented between 1998 and 2005. But no one has put in place a plan to translate it into concrete actions for long-term results, so the positive but uneven results that were achieved initially are now fading.
According to Gala:
Between 2019 and 2020, the government designated 32 new protected areas, totaling 4.9 million hectares. This too engaged put under national protection 30 percent of the total area of the country. They have already achieved the result of protect 21 percent of it, which equates to almost 33 million hectares. In addition, an additional 31 million hectares are now designated as locally protected areas. All of this has taken a lot of effort, yet, in the absence of an organic program to disseminate the information, many people remain uneducated, even within the scientific community. The country is suffering [from] the lack of a scientific approach to nature conservation, and the public tends to oversimplify environmental issues.
For Batsuren as for Gala, the only way to improve the situation is to change people’s mentality. And for this, the institutions and the government must engage in an improved environmental education policy.
As Batsuren concludes, “they [the government] must continue to launch extensive information campaigns, spread awareness more uniformly and systematically and encourage people to pay more attention to the environment.