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Short Stories

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Student participants, from left to right: Oyuna, Bagii, Roberta, Paul and Korice in the Little Gobi.

The following is collection of brief reports from SWiM participants:

Gers, Goods & Water
by Korice Moir

The moment you walk into a ger – a traditional yurt (tent) still in common use throughout the country – you feel the close-knit warmth of the communal space and sense that everything has a place and a purpose. All goods are transportable, a must for the herder lifestyle. Consumption is subsistence-based and, as we discovered during our time in the Gobi desert, herders place significant value on their livestock, common pasture, and water.

Herders move in search of better pastureland and access to water resources. Water is an integral part of the daily herder's life: in preparing meals and tea, raising livestock, and producing wool felt used, for example, to insulate the ger. Water wells can be a kilometer or more away from gers, so water is used sparingly, with the bulk satisfying livestock requirements.

Lacking direct connections to water supplies, water consumption in the ger is based on need. When water is scarce, needs are prioritized. When compared to the average Canadian's domestic water use, herders appear to waste little. As Canadians, we have much to learn from herders on the difference between water needs, wants and waste. Our time in Mongolia emphasized the need for us all to strive towards a new ethic of water conservation. It is time to renew our own connection to this vital resource.

Herding through change
by Paul Marmer

Mongolia has some of the world's most impressive landscapes. Extensive grazing lands span over 80% of the country and represent the world's largest contiguous common grazing areas. Nomadic pastoralists have roamed these lands for millennia, but new solutions are urgently needed to allow Mongolians to cope with rapidly changing circumstances if this distinct way of life is to flourish for another millennium.

SWiM students (from YorkU and NUM) worked closely with herder communities in the Gobi desert. We investigated linkages between scarce water resources, vegetation, and livelihoods, to raise a greater awareness of issues and to aid in developing strategies for dealing with change. Our efforts contributed to on-going local programmes as well as creating new possibilities for future YorkU/NUM exchanges.

Experiences with gender and water in Mongolia
by Roberta Hawkins

This project was an exceptional experience for me. I was able to see at first hand how environmental issues interact with gender, both in individual households and in Mongolian society as a whole. During the project, I witnessed the multi-faceted nature of gender and water management issues, which I was able to compare to the theory learned in class. The interviews, surveys and time spent with local families were important activities that allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the reality of gender and water issues in a developing country. I am grateful for this experience which has encouraged me to pursue further studies in this are. I still have much to learn, but have had a wonderful start.

Inspired by the Gobi

by Paul Marmer

The opportunity to visit a country that has moved from communism to a parliamentary democracy, and where traditional herding practices still survive, was, in short, life changing! Despite economic hardships and uncertainties, herders in the Gobi welcomed us with open arms and gave valuable time to work with us. Their vigor and determination was both admirable and contagious. The project helped define the scope of my graduate studies–vegetation dynamics in response to grazing pressure in arid rangelands -- and provided unparalleled fieldwork and professional experiences ranging from hosting workshops to a national press conference. I now see my research interest in linked social-ecological systems in northern regions in a new light that urges me to get ever more involved.

Water governance in Mongolia -- a case study
by Paul Marmer, Korice Moir, and Roberta Hawkins

As available freshwater resources become increasingly scarce, new or improved forms of governance that protect these vital resources are needed. As a nation emerging from a transition to democracy and a free market economy, Mongolia, with its inherently arid environment, faces challenges in protecting its dwindling water resources. Following the collapse of the socialist era in Mongolia during which the state claimed control over resources, governance of natural resources in Mongolia was left in a vacuum. The interests and well-being of the country's large pastoralist population were at odds with increasing and sometimes deleterious industrial demands on water resources that remain largely unchecked. This project aimed to investigate resources in Mongolia through a human security approach. Water governance was investigated using several methods and methodologies (e.g., participatory rural appraisals (PRAs), surveys, interviews, workshops) and addressed a variety of key issues including pastoralism, mineral mining, gender, and ecological restoration. Governance of water resources to ensure their sustainable use requires collective management among local communities and collaboration between academics, government, NGOs, and socially and environmentally responsible industries, as well as an integrated perspective, linking environmental, social and economic issues.

NUM at York

by Soninkhishig Nergui

Of course, we tried to spy as much us we could, since Gill Wu (then Dean of York's Faculty of Science and Engineering) had teased us about this! But I am sure both sides were happy in the end. I really enjoyed working with York staff and students. The NUM delegates picked up many ideas that we can integrate into our training, research and public service at the Faculty of Biology at NUM. We can better align our programme with the changing environmental and socio-economic development, while simultaneously reflecting on water issues and academic institutional management. There is no doubt that the roots being established to support strong co-operation in various fields between York and NUM were further strengthened through the SWiM project.

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