Protecting Water Sources
Mongolians living in rural areas rely on the many rivers and tributaries to provide drinking water for themselves and their herds. Today, more than 30 tributaries of the Onggi River (one of the largest rivers in the country) have dried up due to unregulated mining that uses high-pressure water systems to extract minerals. In a country where water is sparse to begin with, the corruption of established water sources has dire consequences.
Munkhbayar, born into a family of semi-nomadic herdsmen, heads the Onggi River Movement (ORM), a Mongolian grassroots organization that he co-founded in 2001 to protect and restore the Onggi River. His work has led to the formation of the Mongolian Nature Protection Coalition, which brought together 11 Mongolian river movements and has had significant impact on the awareness of this issue both at the grassroots and legislative levels.
From Herdsman to Statesman
Munkhbayar believes in empowering local citizens to protect and restore the river. He has focused on increasing citizen awareness about the need to maintain natural resources. He holds seminars and workshops to educate herdsmen about their rights as citizens and about environmental issues. Prior to Munkhbayar’s work, few local citizens had been educated about environmental protection, and there were few opportunities for people to participate in shaping government policy. In just a few years, Munkhbayar and ORM have established local boards in all eight counties within the three provinces in the Onggi River Basin; recruited nearly 4,000 supporting members; and carried out information campaigns, press conferences, town hall meetings and a 470-kilometer march along the Onggi river.
Mining for Economic Gains
Devoting all his time to working with ORM, Munkhbayar eventually convinced the government to increase and enforce mining regulations in the region and to stop damaging mining activities and begin environmental restoration. In May 2006, the Mongolian Parliament passed the Law on Minerals, which will regulate mining and protect precious waterways. In addition, 35 of the 37 mining operations working in the Onggi River Basin have ceased destructive operations. Erel Mining Company (the most egregious violator) has been shut down and the Onggi River is flowing higher and farther than it has at any other time in the last two years.