- How is mining important to the economic development of Mongolia and how does it affect the environment?
Mining is very important to the Mongolian Economy. Mining accounts for over 80 percent of total exports. However, the increase in mining comes at a significant cost to the country’s fragile natural environment. Mining exploitation has led to rapid soil erosion and degradation of both pastureland and waterways. In particular, the Gobi desert has a very unique ecology, which is home to many endangered plants and animals. This area is very dry and has limited water resources. The real challenge in coming years is how mining will develop in the Gobi desert with such limited water resources.
- How is community based, participatory environmental monitoring organized in Mongolia?
I have led the environmental program ”Engaging Stakeholders for Environmental Conservation (ESEC)” of the Asia foundation for six years. The aim of this program was to address the key challenges that Mongolia faces in protecting its natural resources from the adverse effects of mining. Therefore, our program aimed to ensure environmental conversation and promote responsible mining through our main approach – which is stakeholder engagement.
How can Mongolia use its natural wealth to expand its economy while also growing healthy communities? One answer is through a multi-stakeholder process involving government, private companies, local citizens and non-governmental organizations to promote responsible mining.
Our program supports collaboration between the local government, the local people and the private sector so that they can sit around the same table and start talking.
The program’s main purpose has been to engage stakeholders in environmental conversation. We have facilitated the establishment of 38 multi-stakeholder councils (LMCs) comprised of mining companies, local government and communities. Once the LMC is established, LMC develops a 1-year action plan to address local environmental issues.
In this context, we have worked together with the mining companies in 50 communities. We have developed educational materials and conducted trainings to increase public understanding of responsible mining, stakeholder engagement and responsible resource use etc.
- Based on your experience working with Participatory Environmental Monitoring Committees in Mongolia, how have the committees addressed environmental issues linked to mining?
By establishing the LMCs, we created a forum for local participation in monitoring mines. Initially, the local communities really wanted to visit the mining sites to see what the operations were like. Mining companies agreed to show operations in the sites. These visits were important to establish trust between the company and the community.
Often community members do not have the knowledge to assess the mining site . For this reason, governmental environmental inspectors joined the LMCs to provide insights about the mining operations. Through the visits carried out by the inspectors together with local communities, it put pressure to mining companies to carry out environmental impact reduction plans to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of the mining operation.
- How are community members involved in the environmental monitoring process? How are they trained to monitor water quality?
The purpose of our work is to raise awareness, build knowledge and skills for the community to engage more effectively in the mining process. We have trained local environmental inspectors, local river water guardians, herders, secondary school teachers and secondary school students from 35 sub-provinces across Mongolia in a simple, low-cost, yet scientific method of monitoring river water to help improve environmental protection. The main purpose of our water quality monitoring methodology was to increase awareness, particularly for young people around water stewardship and its importance. We also introduced this methodology in the curriculum of secondary schools and developed textbooks and educational material related to water monitoring.
- What is the role of national and local governments in the participatory monitoring process? What have you learned in Mongolia that might be useful for other countries that will be carrying out participatory community monitoring?
In Mongolia, the local government tried to engage constructively with the mining companies but did not have the experience. When the community came to the table and began asking questions it proved to be useful for the local government. For example, local communities would ask for the environmental plans, which in turn would create more pressure on the mining company to implement their commitments. So the communities’ participation helped the local government to better work with the mining companies and to improve the environmental responsibility of the mining company.
- What has your experience been working on multi-stakeholder engagement process for mining affected communities in Mongolia?
We have just started developing Environmental Management Plans (EMPs). These are mid-term 3 to 5 year plans, that capture the different relationships and roles of all stakeholders and take into account all natural resources of the entire sub-province area. In contrast to the LMC’s annual action plan that focused on implementing agreed activities and lacked long-term perspectives, the EMP actively promotes community participation in the development of the plan. We engaged a professional company to develop the plan together with the community, government and private sector. We also learned that some mistrust or conflict stems from not understanding local cultural and spiritual values. The EMP that we are currently working on takes cultural and spiritual values into account.
Photo credit: Asia Foundation