By Jangar Ts
Recent floods in Mongolia have brought about a lot of discussions. Continuous heavy rains all over the country quickly resulted in multiple floods, destroying communication lines, affecting some villages and infrastructure. In the northern part of the country, where Ulaanbaatar is located, heavy rains resulted in flooding rivers and occasional submergence of some ger district areas or basements of certain buildings by raised water table. Most of the interest, however, is continuous and heavy rains in the Gobi Desert regions, unseen for more than 3 decades.
In the past, semi-arid and arid zones of the Gobi desert had small populations dispersed over a vast area. However, the development of the mining industry increased human activity in this region. Paved roads, and thus an even more extended, dense network of dirt roads, and growing soum centres and mining towns increased the possibility to be hit by disasters such as heavy rain. There were multiple reports of damage to paved roads caused by flooding road, or recent accident in Airag soum, when locomotive with several cars run off the rails, fortunately without fatalities.
Бид Айраг суманд ирлээ.
Үерийн голомтод айлуудын хашаа байшин далд орсон харагдаж байна.
30 гаруй иргэдийг нүүлгэн шилжүүлсэн байна.
Сумаас зүүн хойш 2 хүн осолдож#ДорноговьАймаг pic.twitter.com/T4Hay323Yi
— Мөнхчулууны Зоригт (@m_zorigt) August 12, 2018
Whom to blame?
Partially, floods can be explained by global warming; according to Science Magazine summer temperatures are rising higher than winter temperatures especially in Mongolia. But, no lesser than important cause is human activity. Pasture management and a dense network of the dirt roads should be carefully planned and managed. The first one is commonly known; the number of livestock grows continuously for decades. The vegetative cover is heavily grazed and the soil beneath is compacted simultaneously. Another reason is a dense network of unpaved or earth roads that acts as an extended channel, delivering substantial amount of rain-water to the nearby river or area with lower elevation causing floods. This was clearly seen from a photo of Airag Soum flood in the picture taken by Mr. Zorigt Munkhchuluun. Compacted soil hardly saturates, and when heavy rain even for the short period of time falls in area, it causes so called Hortonian overflow. Many herders, nowadays, are using cars and motorcycles; adding more roads; I even have seen nomads herding on the car!
Overgrazed pastures, with dense network of roads, fire suppression that breaks natural way of vegetative growth and climate change with other multiple factors will generate disasters such as a desertification, volatile wildfire or flooding. I am not saying that flooding or other disaster is something unseen in Mongolia, these are types of abiotic disasters typical and required to sustain our ecosystem. But increase of occurrences, when every extensive rain becomes a disaster regardless of its location is evident and based on our activities.
Jangar Tsembel was born in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (1974). After graduation from the School of Foreign Services of the National University of Mongolia (1996), Jangar worked as an interpreter in ongoing development projects in Mongolia and since 2000 was employed in consulting companies such as PCI and CTI Engineering International, as acting resident representative of company in Mongolia until 2014. Currently he is a graduate student in the Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia.