A self-educated yak herdsman in Mongolia has won an international environmental award for forcing the closure of destructive mining operations along a river in the landlocked country.
Tsetsegee Munkhbayar is one of six winners of this year's Goldman Environmental Prize, the largest award of its kind in the world. The winners, selected from six regions of the world, will be announced in San Francisco today. Each receives a prize of US$125,000.
Munkhbayar created the Onggi River Movement, which helped convince the government to tighten and better enforce mining regulations, leading to the revival of once dried-up lakes and rivers.
"I spent my childhood by the banks of the Onggi River and I think of myself as one with the river," Munkhbayar said.
He set up the movement in 2001 to pressure the government to better regulate the mining industry after seeing the impact outdated mining methods were having on the river. At first his appeals to the government were ignored, then he organized protest marches.
His group also appealed to candidates during a 2004 national election, who after they won helped form a parliamentary lobby group for the protection of the Onggi River.
"Munkhbayar was chosen because of the huge impact he has had on the issue of responsible mining and water protection in Mongolia," said Richard Goldman, the founder of the prize.
"Not only has he worked with governmental leaders in crafting appropriate legislation, but he has also made it a point to continue educating the public about their water resources," Goldman said in an e-mail.
Munkhbayar said one of his goals was to educate the public about the environment and their rights.
"They do not realize that these mining operations lead to irreversible ecological damage," he said.
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