Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

ALTANBULAG: Mongolia's nomads have roamed its sprawling grasslands for centuries, pitching their yurts wherever they find pasture for their animals, but now Tsogtsaikhan Orgodol is staying put as part of a scheme to tackle chronic overgrazing.

The tanned 53-year-old still wears his nomad's riding boots, but he and his community have been given exclusive rights to 1,000ha of steppe in exchange for reducing their herds and remaining in the same place all year round, giving the land a chance to regenerate.

"I have agreed to cut the number of our goats in half," said Orgodol, looking out from horseback over their 200 animals, mostly sheep and some cows, who despite the project principles are not fenced in.

"The only problem is when other animals come," he added. "They sense where the good grass is. We have to chase them away."

According to MCC's website, the project will cover about 300 tracts of land near Ulan Bator and Mongolia's next two largest towns, Erdenet and Darkhan, involving around 1,000 households in total.

Orgodol's 22-strong group shares two yurts, known as gers in Mongolia, and a permanent house next to a barn about 45km outside the capital Ulan Bator.

The national tradition is for land to be accessible to all, with pastoralist families moving several times a year in search of fodder and water.

But Nyamsuren Lkhagvasuren, who runs the land programme for the US-funded aid agency Millennium Challenge Corporation, said: "The number of livestock has exploded to more than 40 million.

"This goes beyond the limits of what is reasonable, even for Mongolia, which is a vast country."

In a study published last month in the journal Global Change Biology, researchers from the University of Oregon using satellite images from NASA found that 70% of Mongolia's grassland - which makes up almost four-fifths of the country - is now "degraded".

Twelve percent of the country's biomass has disappeared in recent years, they said, calling overgrazing a "primary contributor" to the alarming decline of the steppe.

Livestock was collectivised under the socialist planned economy imposed under decades of Com munist dictatorship when Mongolia was a satellite of the Soviet Union.

But since the advent of democracy and a market economy in 1990, many Mongolians have returned to their sheep and cattle - partly because unemployment shot up - so that 40% of the working population are now herders. -- AFP

Agriculture Minister Battulga Khaltmaa - a former judo champion - acknowledged concerns about desertification but downplayed the University of Oregon findings, attributing the problem to climate change rather than overgrazing.

"The number of animals is not that high compared to the size of the land," he said.

In the Soviet era even greater numbers of cattle roamed the country of 1.6 million sq km, he pointed out.

"Under socialism, we had 26 million livestock and under Stalin the target was set at 250 million in order to meet the demand for meat in Siberia."

But herders who cannot command high prices resort to selling large quantities instead, said Thomas Pavie, an agriculture expert who advises French government projects in Mongolia.

"There is indeed overgrazing, especially in the production of cashmere. The problem is that Mongolia exports wool in the form of raw material, particularly to China, so the value-added happens somewhere else," he said.

"That requires them to produce a lot. If wool were sold more expensively, they would need fewer animals." -- AFPSTUDENTS are mimicking ADHD symptoms in a bid to get their hands on a drug that can help them improve their concentration.

Ritalin is most often prescribed to sufferers of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But a handful of young adults have also been using it as a "brain booster" to give them an edge over their competition.

The white circular tablets contain the stimulant methylphenidate and work by activating parts of the brain that allow concentration, "dimming" others.

For a child with ADHD, Ritalin stimulates the production of dopamine - the brain chemical involved with motivation - and helps them to focus on the task at hand.

For the average youth, it boosts their concentration power, tuning out the "white noise" often blamed for procrastination.

Several former and current Ritalin users said said the drug was favoured by those in reading-intensive university courses and jobs requiring prolonged concentration periods.

Whole chapters of textbooks can be read in a third of the time, and number-crunching tasks whizz by, they said.

Most such Ritalin takers do not actually have ADHD and rely on friends who have the drug - or even imitate symptoms to a psychiatrist.

Though the number of abusers is believed to be small, one said she is "not the only one who takes Ritalin" for purposes other than ADHD.

"A small circle" of classmates take it to cope with examinations, said the 23-year-old graduate student, who declined to be named.

She claimed such pill-popping has been going on for at least a decade. "Many of us found out about the drug from our seniors."

The practice also takes place in the United States, Europe and China, where experts have expressed fears of a "Ritalin generation".

Not all hospital and private psychiatrists, and even fewer general practitioners, dispense Ritalin, and the health authorities say they can do so only under strict supervision.

The pills must be kept under lock and key. Names of those who purchase them, as well as the quantity they buy, must be recorded.

Practitioners said that they try to avoid dispensing Ritalin altogether, preferring less addictive alternatives.

If they do so, it is in conjunction with long-term counselling.

To prevent abuse, psychiatrists have implemented a series of checks to ensure young adults claiming to have ADHD are not doing it to get Ritalin.

Most ADHD cases are diagnosed during childhood, said Dr Chan Herng Nieng of Singapore General Hospital.

When anyone over 19 comes in claiming they have ADHD, he requires that they bring their report book and, in some cases, their parents to verify their academic history.

"You can't claim to be perpetually inattentive but score As all the time," he said.

Another 23-year-old student, who was diagnosed with ADHD by a private psychiatrist three years ago, admitted that she "probably doesn't need" Ritalin and takes the pills only in the weeks leading up to her exams.

Even if abusers get around such checks, financial obstacles may stand in the way.

One user said her doctor's consultation fee alone costs S$400 (RM1,018), while each pill costs S$2 (RM5). -- The Straits Times / Asia News NetworkGETTING calls from teachers complaining about her 10-year-old son's behaviour is something that Madam Toh is used to.

The 48-year-old factory worker, who declined to give her full name, said her son has had problems relating to his classmates.

But the calls stopped after he attended an anger management programme run by the Singapore Children's Society in March.

The society aims to promote the well-being of children, mainly those from abusive and dysfunctional families.

It said there is a rising number of youngsters needing help to manage anger problems and in 2010, it set up a programme called Storm Riders to combat this.

Offering interactive activities and counselling, it has since helped 94 kids aged eight to 12 - mostly boys. "Because of the pace of our society and exposure to instant messaging, we expect more children to face such issues. The younger generation expects instant gratification," executive director Alfred Tan said.

"Many families are small now, so there will be higher expectations on the child in terms of performance. Children who don't meet expectations - that's where the stress levels go up and one outcome will be the issue of anger."

Jenny Giam, a senior counsellor at the society, said that other reasons include family background, parenting style and exposure to violence from TV and computer games. A child may also express anger to seek attention.

Tan noted: "Social workers have seen younger children exhibit such behaviour so we came up with the programme to address the issue early. We will need more early intervention programmes."

The Institute of Mental Health said it treated 74 children aged eight to 13 for anger management issues from 2007 to 2011.

Dr Bernardine Woo, senior consultant at its Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, said common signs of anger in children include physical violence, verbal abuse and being sullen or withdrawn.

Professionals said it is important to seek help early and parents should not dismiss the behaviour as a "growing-up phase". -- The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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