So I went to a conference in Mongolia, same format as other international conferences, except you get served sliced cow tongue for lunch. India, Turkey, Korea, Kazakhstan, a few other ‘Stans and reps from embassies in Mongolia gathered together to share information on how to combat desertification in Asia.
It’s a big problem… A huge problem. Especially in Mongolia. 90% of land in Mongolia is vulnerable to desertification. It’s landlocked, mountainous terrain with high altitude. There is a moisture deficit, low humidity and high temperature fluctuation. Not a good start.
The word ‘Desertification’ is pretty self explanatory = Places that weren’t deserts are turning into deserts because of climate change and other human activities.
What’s exactly is causing it?
Climate Change - As the planet warms up the areas already hot are getting hotter, especially around the equator.
Climate change is also intensifying extreme weather patterns.
Sand storms in Mongolia are spreading deserts far and wide.
Less rain is falling in Mongolia because of climate change and more is evaporating.
People - For a start there are a lot more of us and the population is still rising.
We drink a lot of water and we use a lot doing other stuff like farming and industry. Development in an area where water is scarce already, is a bit of a no-no, but we do it anyway. In Mongolia the mining industry is using a lot of water where there isn’t much already.
When we use the land we often ‘over-use’ it. This is called land degradation. When the land is depleted of nutrients, plants can’t grow. Deserts take over.
Overgrazing is also a big problem – especially in Mongolia.
Developing industry in dry areas often reduces soil productivity – vegetation decreases. Building stuff like roads and industry doesn’t help with the dust.
How does it affect us and the planet?
Desertification affects the ecology on the ground. Plants and animals find it really hard to cope with the changes. Species are becoming extinct every day.
Humans too are suffering from the lack of water, soil fertility and lack of green cover. If less food can be grown, less people eat. Respiratory diseases are on the up because of the atmospheric dust. People are having to move to places where they have a better chance of survival. Climate Refugees. Where do you go? With huge amounts of people expected to be forced to move due to climate change and the resources wars that it ignites, we’re going to have to be very nice to each other, another thing that historically we ain’t very good at.
So a lovely bit of light reading for you, full of joy and inspiration… sorry about that. But it’s all happening, and seeing it first hand was what we did on the 2nd day of the conference.
You see I can hide away in Wales. It rains ALL THE BLOODY TIME and don’t I complain about it. I long for the sun most of the time but in fact we’re pretty damn lucky.
My refugee friends in the Sahara, although they don’t live there by choice (Morocco is illegally occupying their homeland…), live in the harshest conditions on earth. They rely entirely on foreign aid. Not a sustainable situation. It’s a desperate situation. They certainly don’t want to be there. Most people and plants can’t really live in the desert.
Anyway, so the second day was a bit more upbeat. I snuck onto a field trip to check out some positive action on combating desertification. It was interesting to hang out with these diplomat types in less formal times. They behave rather like children, not helped by the Kurkistan delegate cracking open the vodka at 9:30am.
Phase two of a major reforestation project is underway. A huge ‘green belt’ of trees is to be planned pretty much across the whole of Mongolia to stop the spread of it’s deserts. This consists of a lot of testing, planting, monitoring, research and training and we went to check out some of the research sites where all the activity was happening. It’s a joint project with Korean and quite impressive. They’ve managed to up the survival rate of saplings to planted trees to 90%.
They’ve done a load of research on the right indigenous trees to plant (Seabuckthorn has risen to great heights in my like list), they seem to have put in a lot of effort and employment into the local community (with a local family looking after the site we visited, in exchange for a bit of space for agroforestry. Plus they know a lot about their local trees) and have trained up a load of people to keep the project full of momentum.
Trees take root, they support life, encourage rain fall. They are a physical barrier and they break up wind. They provide shade, habitat, employment, food if managed properly. All over pretty amazing.
It’s not just planting trees that stop deserts from spreading. Stopping the causes in the first place is a much better way. Sustainable agriculture, better grazing management, greater respect for nature, tighter laws, better technology that has less impact, monitoring, international support and action… these are a few of my favourite things….
Oh and on the way home it snowed and we saw wild horses, something previously eradicated in Mongolia (not snow – that still comes every year, more extreme than ever before). They are doing well, being looked after. Efficient management, care and thought has meant that they are thriving and on the increase. See there is hope.
I’ll put some more photos up when I don’t have to get up in 4 hours