AKIPRESS.COM - Exploring the vastness of Gobi Desert in the 13th century, Marco Polo proclaimed it to be filled with “extraordinary illusions”, The Conversation CA reports.
Today, Oyu Tolgoi, one of the world’s largest copper-gold mines, rises among Mongolia’s traditional herding lands, shimmering like an illusion across the steppe’s treeless, grassless plains.
Mineral-rich Mongolia, labelled “the next Qatar” by The Economist, is experiencing an unparalleled mining boom. But as mega-mines like Oyu Tolgoi ramp up production, they are creating distrust and conflict with herder communities.
The rapid rise in mineral extraction now raises the question, “Can herding survive mining?”
The Gobi, Mongolia’s high-latitude desert, is a harsh environment traditionally inhabited by mobile pastoralists. The dramatic steppe and its extreme aridity form an important backdrop to herding activities, with low rainfall, droughts and extreme dzud winters.
The unpredictable climate make seasonal animal migrations (known as otor) exceptionally challenging here. For six millennia, Mongolian herders adapted to water and pasture scarcity with Traditional Ecological Knowledge. But Soviet collectivization centralized and controlled their herding practices, making them less mobile and less resilient to environmental shocks.
Today, these adaptive strategies are being further threatened by resource extraction. Mines can have negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts on herder livelihoods, from landscape degradation, dust emissions and water pollution, to a loss of traditional practices, community displacement and corruption.