The UK Space Agency is excited to see the potential that space technology can play as Mongolia responds to significant development challenges against a background of a changing climate.

A herder from Bulgan province, Mongolia moving his livestock in search of better grazing conditions after very low rainfall during May 2018. Photograph by Batbuyan Batjav (Centre for Nomadic Pastoralism Studies)

Mongolia is a country of extremes; it is one of the largest countries in the world, over twice the size of France but with a population smaller than Wales. Winters are long and cold but punctuated by short hot summers. Nearly half of Mongolia’s population live in the country’s capital city Ulaanbaatar with the remaining population widely distributed across rural areas.

Across the vast expanses of this country nearly a third of the Mongolian population follow a pastoral lifestyle, which retains varying degrees of ‘traditional’ mobility between seasonal pastures. These populations and their livestock can be exposed to extreme weather events known as ‘dzuds’. Dzuds are weather events characterised by dry, arid summers, adversely affecting pasture growth, followed by extreme cold and snow in winter and subsequent loss of livestock. Dzuds can devastate animal numbers and livelihoods, with resulting social and economic damage. With climatic change there has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of these dzud events.

The disruption to rural livelihoods is one reason behind increased urban migration to Ulaanbaatar. This has in turn has exacerbated issues with urban overcrowding and air pollution as large numbers of people use coal burners during the long winter months, thus with adverse impacts both on environmental pollution and on human health.

The UK Space Agency is supporting a project called SIBELIUs, comprising a consortium of UK organisations to build greater capacity in Mongolian institutions, to enable production of improved Earth Observation derived products, containing vital information about emerging drought conditions, pasture and grazing capacity and snow extent and depth, more frequently and at better resolution than previously possible.

The project’s impact will reach herding communities through three distinct routes involving the participation of key Mongolian government stakeholders.

One route involves working with insurance providers in Mongolia to improve insurance policies and designed to increase the herding populations’ resilience to extreme weather events.

A second route is in collaboration with the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry to help provide better management of reserve regions where pasture is set aside, only for use in dzud conditions.

The third route is via a mobile phone text messaging service, set up by Mercy Corps, which provides herders with weather forecast information and advice on pasture conditions, thus supporting decision making and livelihoods.

[1] The SIBELIUs project is led by eOsphere Ltd, working in consortium with Deimos Space UK, the University of Leicester and Micro-Insurance Research Centre UK.

The Mongolian partners are the Information and Research Institute of Meterology, Hydrology and Environment at the National Agency for Meteorological and Environmental Monitoring of Mongolia (IRIMHE/NAMEM), Agricultural Reinsurance JSC, the Centre for Nomadic Pastoralism Studies, Mercy Corps and the Administration for Inter-Aimag Pastureland Use and Co-ordination within the Ministry for Agriculture & Light Industry.