Traditional livestock herding has been the main economic activity in Mongolia’s South Gobi for countless generations. Always a precarious livelihood in this harsh desert landscape, herding became even harder when the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine began building its vast network of infrastructure on one of the world’s largest copper deposits. Suddenly in competition for pasture and water resources, in a rapidly changing economic and physical landscape, herders quickly began to feel the impacts on their traditional livelihoods.
In 2012 and 2013, herders in Khanbogd Soum filed complaints to an accountability office tied to the World Bank Group, which invested in the Oyu Tolgoi mine. The accountability office, called the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman ("CAO"), facilitated a mediation process, which led the parties to establish the Tripartite Council (TPC), a freestanding body of representatives from the mine, herders and the local government to resolve issues related to herders, water and pasture.
In May 2017, after years of negotiation, the TPC reached two final agreements to resolve herders’ complaints. Together, these agreements contain 60 separate commitments to address issues related to pasture and water resources, monitoring of impacts and community relations, compensation for lost livelihoods, and the mine’s disruption of the Undai River and sacred Bor Ovoo spring.
The TPC has made commendable progress on moving forward an expansive set of commitments--it has completed roughly one-third of all commitments, and another one-third are in progress. But the TPC continues to face challenges implementing some of the most important commitments to herders: increasing access to water and pasture and connecting herders to markets. With some of the most important commitments still pending, herders continue to express fears about whether they can continue to engage in traditional livestock herding in their changed environment.
The agreements are an important achievement, but unless they are carried out effectively, they may amount to little more than words on paper. Turning the agreements into reality requires dedicated work by all parties, and that work is far from over.
Achievements to Date
The soum supported herders in recognizing their customary land rights by conducting a camp cadaster registration for all herders. About 80% of herders have had their camps mapped and registered so far. Learn about the camp cadaster.
At least 36 seniors have participated in a project to share traditional herding practices with younger herders. The TPC along with the Elders’ Council agreed to extend and expand the project. Learn about elder herder's project.
Munkh Nogoon Galba, a non-governmental organization of local herders and young professionals, has developed a participatory monitoring plan, which they are starting to implement in stages and currently involves nearly 100 herders. Learn about participatory monitoring.
Some affected herder households who had been displaced by the construction of the mine received trainings on topics ranging from welding to sewing. A cooperative sewing business, founded by herder women who participated in one of these training programs, won an international award in 2019.
In February 2019, Accountability Counsel published a report analyzing progress in the first 18 months of agreement implementation. The report found that some of the most important commitments still required significant work, with successful implementation far from guaranteed. This website builds on that report and provides an update of findings and recommendations as of May 2020.
As advisors to herders, we develop these reports to monitor progress on implementation and bring transparency to the process while also advocating for agreement implementation that leads to the greatest benefit for herders.
Three years after the agreements were reached, we reflect on what is working, what is not, and what can be improved. Since our last report, the TPC has made real progress by the numbers: it has completed 8 additional commitments and is making progress on an additional 11 commitments. Where last year more than half of all commitments were delayed or not started, now two-thirds of commitments are completed or making progress towards completion. This is a commendable achievement.
But in some ways, the hardest work has only just begun. Many of the additional completed achievements involve commitments impacting only a handful of herder households. The most important commitments to herders meant to benefit the community at large and provide the means to sustain their livelihoods, such as building new wells across the soum, opening new pastures, and connecting herders to markets, have either not started or only just begun. These commitments are complex and will not be easy to implement well. Their success will require not only sustained effort, but ongoing consultation with the herder community to make sure each commitment brings the intended benefits.
The TPC’s work has begun to sow real benefits but it remains far from clear whether the agreements will fulfill their promise of supporting herders to continue their traditional way of life while living next to a world class mine. One thing is clear: rapid and effective progress is needed.
Status of Commitments
*Note: Commitment #34 requires fully implementing the Khanbogd Soum Animal Husbandry Sector Development Program through 2024. This is a significant commitment with several components to it. We have identified 13 components within this Development Program that are not captured by other commitments and are now individually tracking these components as separate sub-commitments. Consequently, this year’s total commitments we are tracking includes 72 commitments versus the 60 we tracked last year.
- Increase transparency and improve communication with the local herding community, including through regular updates on implementation status and expected timelines. Without improvement, poor information flow leads to suspicion and confusion and may prevent the most vulnerable herders from sharing in Agreement benefits.
- Establish a robust, independent monitoring and review mechanism, to ensure the TPC remains accountable and carries out the Agreement commitments in full. Monitoring should focus on whether implementation of each commitment has achieved its intended purpose and include recommendations to help TPC overcome obstacles.
- Ensure that all Agreement commitments are implemented in line with their agreed purpose and intent, even where unforeseen challenges may require modifications. If herding is to be sustained, pasture and water commitments should be prioritized with a focus on meeting herders’ needs
- Closely monitor and maintain control over commitments funded or carried out by third parties, to avoid the risk of projects drifting from their intended purpose, timeline and scope.
- Continue to improve the capacity and commitment of TPC representatives, considering that newly elected TPC members may benefit from training on TPC duties and practices and that 2020 is a local election year which may introduce influences that distract all local stakeholders from the TPC’s agenda.