Starting October 2009, I will be working in Mongolia for one year as volunteer in an effort to reduce poverty and conserve this beautiful country. I have been selected by the
Volunteer Service Organization (VSO) to serve as a GIS specialist for a natural resource management project, working with poor herders in Mongolia.
Since Mongolia’s recent transition from communism to a market economy, herders have encountered serious social and economic challenges. Banks passed out loads of loans to herders to increase their profits during a boom time. Overgrazing and other poor practices led to severely degraded pasture and water sources (I am simplifying the story. Please read more on these complex issues). As lands became unproductive, herders slowly abandoned them. During this period the global economy collapsed, forcing many more herders into bankruptcy. Herders, unable to sustain their livelihood, migrated to cities in search of jobs. This migration has resulted in Mongolia’s first urban slums. Unemployment is high in the cities, and poverty has led to a rise in alcoholism, family disintegration, domestic violence, street children, and declining health statistics.
Environmental quality is now at the top of community concerns. I will be working with herders and cooperatives throughout the country to support them technically in restoration of their natural resources. Specifically, I will map water points and pastureland throughout Mongolia, assess restoration needs, and establish land use plans. Because Mongolia has few inhabitants, it is reasonable to expect that this project will positively improve the livelihoods of a large percentage of the rural peoples of Mongolia.
Along the way, I also expect to transfer my skills directly. I will train herders and land officers on the use of GIS for land use planning and create training materials, so that in the future they can supply their own land use planners for mapping projects.
My personal goal is to help conserve the nomadic culture and natural beauty of these high mountain lands.