Officials of the Office of the President paid a working visit to Khuvsgul Province last week to meet with representatives of the reindeer herding community and review the performance of a presidential decree issued in 2013 to preserve their traditional way of life, and to provide them with improved access to education, healthcare, and social services. The discussion was led by O.Chuluunbileg, advisor to the President on welfare and green development policy . As of today, around 250 reindeer herders are living in Tsagaannuur soum, Khuvsgul Province. Since the presidential decree was issued, every member of reindeer herding families receives a welfare allowance of 130,000 MNT a month, which has turned into the primary source of income for many families. Although the assistance is lower than the nation's minimum monthly wage, community members say it has not only enabled many families to send their children to school in the soum’s center, but that the money allows them to buy medicine and receive medical care. University students from the reindeer herding community also receive a tuition fee waiver under the presidential decree. Unlike typical livestock, opportunities to put reindeer into economic circulation are limited. Reindeer milk is used to make milk tea, hides are sold and used for outerwear, and its fur can be turned into felt. There are few possibilities to make a profit from reindeer herding aside from herding for sustenance. In recent years, the number of tourists visiting Tsaganuur soum to witness the lifestyle of the reindeer herding community has increased, however the tourism hasn’t become a sufficient source of income. The reindeer herding community believes that the government should keep providing support through policy, assisting in increasing the reindeer population, and helping to preserve the ethnic group and its uniquely Mongolian lifestyle. They also brought up improving the process of registration for reindeer herding families residing in Khuvsgul’s forests, as some reindeer herding families travel to new camps before registration takes place and are not able receive welfare benefits, noting that some people outside of the reindeer herding community are receiving the designated allowance. They also mentioned that reindeer brought from Turkey for breeding purposes still haven’t properly adapted to their new habitat because of the illness acquired during transportation. They suggested bringing in reindeer from Russia by traditional migratory methods over land. Local residents raise concerns about Khuvsgul Lake safety During their visit to Khuvsgul’s Khatgal and Khankh soums, officials of the President’s Office announced that the President of Mongolia is working to issue a decree to protect Khuvsgul Lake. The local residents want Khuvsgul Lake to be registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but emphasized that the livelihood of Khuvsgul Lake residents should be improved by bringing tourism at Khuvsgul Lake to higher international standards. Pursuant to the Law on Water, tourist camps are to be operated a distance of at least 250 meters from lake shores. Local residents say that tourist camps that have been built right on the shores of Khuvsgul before the law was adopted should be relocated. The local residents also said that the increased number of visitors to Khuvsgul, a result of road development, has been harmful to the natural environment around the lake. In 2015, around 73,000 tourists visited Khuvsgul. Khuvsgul locals say that outdoor toilets have been dug too close to the lake, and that some tourists don’t clean up after themselves after overnight camping, leaving litter at their campsites. Khuvsgul residents say that the most important issue is to remove or relocate unauthorized tourists camps to follow the standards stated in the Law on Water. They suggested initiating a special travel route for tourists who want to see the lake, and to put the residents of Khatgal and Khankh soums in charge of travel arrangements and amenities in order to avoid pollution and to allow local residents to see profits from tourism. Senior residents of Khankh and Khatgal soums suggested that the President name his decree the “Decree on Dalai Eej”, as Khuvsgul Lake is commonly referred to as Dalai Eej (Mother Ocean), and asked him to make his decisions considering the income and lifestyles of Khuvsgul Lake residents.
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