Mongolian Mining Battle Heats Up With Herder's Death

inner mongolia grasslands photo

The arid grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Photo: Satbir Singh / Creative Commons.

The already tense battle over mining in Inner Mongolia has erupted further after a Mongolian herder was run over by a coal truck and killed while trying to block the vehicles from crossing prairie land. The death of the 35-year-old herder -- which many locals believe to have been an intentional killing -- has brought thousands out into the streets for the biggest wave of demonstrations in this autonomous region of China in 20 years."There are increasing conflicts between herders and miners as the authorities open up more mines in the grasslands to meet their goal of turning Inner Mongolia into the nation's energy base," Enghebatu Togochog, the director of the U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, told The Guardian.

Local residents say the coal trucks regularly take shortcuts over grazing land, killing livestock and damaging the already fragile grassland, the paper reported yesterday. Herders are also angry about the government fencing off many of their traditional pasturelands, which officials say is necessary to prevent overgrazing and desertification.

Grasslands Overgrazed
Grasslands in both Inner Mongolia and the neighboring nation of Mongolia have been overgrazed since the fall of the Soviet Union, which mostly maintained traditional rangeland practices in organizing its herding collectives, the United Nations University environmental website OurWorld 2.0 reported earlier this year. Privatization increased the number of herders and fragmented the landscape, according to a report by the United Nations Development Programme and other international organizations:

"Many of these [new herding] households were inexperienced and insufficiently mobile; they settled near water sources or settlements where the carrying capacity of the grazing resources is now considered to be exceeded. More than half have less than 100 animals and are at risk from poverty."

Combined with the increasing pressure of climate change, these developments have made herders and their flocks vulnerable to disaster, as seen during the mass animal deaths in the the winter of 2010.

Mongolian and Japanese scientists are working with nomadic herders to try and figure out a more sustainable way forward for arid rangelands such as those found in the region, combining traditional pasture systems that are easier on the land with modern scientific data that could help herders on both sides of the border cope with new problems such as climate change. Continuing to turn grazing lands into mining pits, however, would render such efforts moot.

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