Interview: Climate-related desertification main factor behind yellow dust storms in Mongolia, says official

Source: Xinhua| 2021-04-01 16:45:07|Editor: huaxiahttp://www.xinhuanet.com/english/asiapacific/2021-04/01/c_139852518.htm

ULAN BATOR, April 1 (Xinhua) — Climate change-related desertification is the main factor behind the increase in the frequency of yellow dust storms in Mongolia in recent years, a senior official of the Environment and Tourism Ministry has said.

“Mongolia has a harsh continental climate, and is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. The frequency of climate-related natural disasters such as yellow dust storms have been on the rise in our country,” Altangerel Enkhbat, head of the climate change department at the ministry, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

“If we divide Mongolia’s desertification into human and natural factors, the majority of the desertification is directly related to natural factors or climate change,” said Enkhbat.

The average temperature in Mongolia has risen 2.25 degrees Celsius over the past 80 years, almost tripling the rise of average global temperatures, and 76.8 percent of the Mongolian total territory has been struck by desertification, Enkhbat said. “The situation is likely to get worse unless concrete actions are taken.”

The annual precipitation in Mongolia has decreased by 7 percent to 8 percent over the last 80 years, especially the amount of rainfall or precipitation during the warm season has decreased significantly, he said.

Over the last 40 years, the number of hot days per year in Mongolia has increased by nearly 20 days, and the warmest 10 years in the country over the last 80 years has been recorded in the last less than 15 years, according to the official.

“These figures show the impact of climate change on Mongolia. The frequency of natural disasters caused by climate change has increased significantly in the country in recent years,” he said, adding that a real example of this is yellow dust storms.

Enkhbat stressed that the main way to combat desertification and reduce land degradation and the frequency of dust storms is to increase vegetation cover and afforestation by planting trees.

Mongolia has a total land area of 1,564,116 square km, and only 7.9 percent is now covered by forests.

In recent years, trees have been planted on 3,000-5,000 hectares of land per year with the state budget, he said. “We aim to increase this figure to 8.6 percent in the coming four years.”

“Saxaul forests play the most important role in protecting arid and desert ecosystems. Therefore, increasing the size of saxaul forests or planting saxaul trees in Gobi desert areas in southern Mongolia and other drylands is a real measure to reduce the intensity of desertification and dust storms,” he said.

The Mongolian government has been implementing a national program called “Green Wall” since 2005 in order to increase the vegetation cover and combat the desertification in the arid and Gobi desert regions of southern Mongolia.

“We are interested in cooperating with foreign countries, especially our neighbor countries, to expand this program,” he said.

“Also, our country has been cooperating with relevant Chinese organizations on issues related to dust storms and desertification. For example, since last year, relevant ministries of the two countries have been holding policy consultative meetings to determine certain direction of cooperation,” he added.

Mongolia, one of the last nomadic countries in the world, has four seasons. Strong winds, and dust and snow storms are common in spring.

Ten people, mostly nomadic herders, and hundreds of thousands of farm animals died in Mongolia due to the strong winds and heavy dust storms that hit large parts of Mongolia in mid-March.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.