G. Ulziibaya is a senior hydrologist at Oyu Tolgoi, a copper-and-gold mine that is expected to account for one-third of Mongolia’s GDP by 2020. Part of his work is to ensure that drilling for water at the mining sites goes deeper than 300 meters underground. “We also seal-off the deep aquifers from the shallow water sources located above, so that it won’t have side effects on underground water near the surface,” he says.
He is making this effort so that the mining business, which is springing up at a remarkable speed in Mongolia, won’t take away water from neighboring communities or animals and herders residing in the region.
Like Ulziibaya, Mongolians today recognize the need to balance development with environmental protection, as the vast reserve of sought-after minerals is driving the country’s economic growth at 17% a year.
“We inherited from our ancestors the traditional customs, nomadic culture and religion. They have taught us to respect and love Mother Nature,” says Ch. Jargalsaikhan, Vice Minister of Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism (MNET). “As mining is recognized as the key sector of Mongolia’s development agenda, environmental issues are becoming increasingly broader while economic development and living standards are improving.”
To address environmental issues, the World Bank, together with the Government of Mongolia, began to administer the Netherlands-Mongolia Trust Fund for Environmental Reform (NEMO) in 2005 with funding provided by the Dutch Government. The overarching objective of the funds was to strengthen environment and natural resources management in Mongolia.
The trust fund-supported activities, implemented in two phases, drew to a close in February, 2012. The 1st phase, which ran from 2005-2006, obtained impressive results, including:
- The establishment of sound baselines of knowledge for environmental and natural resource management that can be used as benchmarks for measuring progress (or regress).
- Wide media coverage of the program that increased the visibility of environmental affairs in the country.
- Enlarging the pool of environmental practitioners
- Helping the MNET begin to prioritize responses among the many environmental problems the country faces.
The 2nd phase (2007-2011) continued to advance the environmental agenda in Mongolia. Its major outcomes include:
- Searchable, web-accessible databases on environment and natural resources management, available in both Mongolian and English;
- An increase in the coverage of NEMO-related issues in the media;
- Continuation of a small grants program for environmental activities at the national and local levels; and
- A strategy and action plan covering priorities from 2012 to 2021.