Cars, mostly olive green Russian jeeps, weave in and out of the five-storey apartment blocks of downtown Dalanzadgad. Running through the centre of the capital of Omnogobi is a gardened boulevard, where families hide from the hot sun under trees.
That one road, and the few feeding into it, are the only enforced guides for drivers. It can be seen across Mongolia – settlements crisis-crossed by drivers looking for the shortest route to their destination. It doesn’t help that there are no natural or manmade barriers to prevent drivers going their own way.
In Dalanzadgad, a UNDP project to protect the environment from off-road driving has had an unexpected outcome: it has galvanized the community to make the streets safer by adding over 100 traffic signs. The project “Soil and Road” under UNDP’s Environmental Public Awareness Programme (EPAP), started modestly. According to project director and local Khural head Mr. Byambasuren, the number of vehicles in the area shot up from 800 three years ago, to 1,500 today. Most of these vehicles drive off-road, kicking up dust and destroying flora, contributing to desertification.
“The disease rate here is very high because of the dust and we have many traffic accidents involving children,” says Byambasuren.
With a small grant of Tg 2.5 million from EPAP the project was able to organize workshops for local drivers where they signed a contract to not drive off-road, facing stiff penalties from the traffic police if caught.
A media campaign was also organized and posters and brochures distributed. The local traffic police were so impressed by the project they decided to chip in a further Tg 2 million to construct traffic signs and install concrete calming barriers.
At first they explored the possibility of buying ready-made signs but found the costs too prohibitive.
“We wanted to get signs that glowed at night but they were too expensive. We decided to make our own out of old oil drums.”
In a room thick with the smell of fresh paint sits the traffic signs. They all use internationally recognized symbols and only upon closer inspection, reveal their past life sitting on top of an oil drum. Each sign costs Tg 2,000 to make. In addition to the signs traffic calming concrete barriers have been installed in 20 places throughout Dalanzadgad.
Next year Byambasuren will target the large ger districts that surround the centre of Dalanzadgad. He has a message for any driver who doesn’t obey: “We will be banging on their heads with lectures if they break the rules!,” he says with a laugh.
UN/UNDP Mongolia Development Portal (www.un-mongolia.mn)
I launched this portal in 1997, in the middle of a major economic crisis in Mongolia. This award-winning (winner in 1998 of the People’s Choice WebSite 500 award and the CyberTeddy Top 500 Website award) and pioneering United Nations Mongolia development web portal was singled out by UN headquarters as an example of what a country office website should be like.
At this time, Mongolia was still recovering from the chaotic and turbulent transition from Communism to free markets and democracy begun at the start of the 1990s, called by some “one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever” (Mongolia’s Economic Reforms: Background, Content and Prospects, Richard Pomfret, University of Adelaide, 1994). There was a thirst for information: access to the Internet was still limited and access to mobile phones was just the preserve of the rich. As a legacy of the past, information, especially that about the outside world and the country’s true economic and social conditions, was restricted. During the years of Communism, even simple travel from one place to the next was strictly regulated.
While today we can take it for granted that the Internet, and mobile and smart phones, deliver the world’s information in seconds, this just was not the case in the late 1990s in Mongolia.
I was head of communications for the United Nations mission in Mongolia from 1997 to 1999. The mission had to primarily tackle three major crises: the country’s turbulent transition from Communism to free markets and democracy, the social and economic crash this caused, and the Asian Financial Crisis (Pomfret 2000) (Quah 2003)*.
Richard Pomfret said in 1994 “In 1991 Mongolia suffered one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever (Mongolia’s Economic Reforms: Background, Content and Prospects, Richard Pomfret, University of Adelaide, 1994).”
Writing in 2018, author John West found, in a chapter titled Mongolia’s Corruption Curse (Transparency International and the World Bank had found corruption worsened in Mongolia after 2001), “In many ways, Mongolia has everything going for it. After being a satellite state of the former Soviet Union for much of the twentieth century, Mongolia regained its independence with the end of the Cold War. A relatively peaceful political revolution in the early 1990s ushered in a multi-party democracy and open society which have remained in place. … And it is blessed with vast reserves of copper, gold, coal, molybdenum, fluorspar, uranium, tin and tungsten deposits. True, Mongolia experienced great upheavals as the breakup of the Soviet Union saw its trade decline by 80%. But Mongolia was also perfectly placed to benefit from the commodity super cycle driven by China, which is now the destination for the vast majority of its exports.
“However, despite much hype about the Mongolian “wolf economy”, this country of so much promise is being dragged down by massive corruption. …
In this role, I pioneered innovative use of the Internet and digital resources to communicate the UN’s work and Mongolia’s unfolding crises. The UN called this work a “role model” for the wider UN and country offices. A survey of United Nations country office websites in 2000 ranked the UN Mongolia website I launched in 1997 and oversaw for two years (1997-1999), third best in the world, saying: “A UN System site. A very nice, complete, professional site. Lots of information, easily accessible and well laid out. The information is comprehensive and up-to-date. This is a model of what a UNDP CO web site should be.” (http://www.scribd.com/doc/274319690/UNDP-Mongolia-United-Nations-2000-Survey-of-Country-Office-Websites)
As part of a strategic plan to raise awareness of Mongolia’s development challenges and to spur action on meeting them, a Communications Office was established for the UN mission in 1997. Acting as a strategic hub, the Communications Office and its dynamic and talented team, were able to leverage the existing budget to spur action on many fronts.
In 2001, the UN won the Nobel Peace Prize for “their work for a better organized and more peaceful world” and its communications innovations, with work such as that in Mongolia being cited as a contributing factor to the awarding of the Prize.
GOSH Child Health Portal (www.gosh.nhs.uk)
In 2001 I undertook a two-year contract to modernise the online resources for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust (GOSH)/Institute of Child Health (ICH). My strategy was inspired and informed by initiatives encountered while working as a health and medical journalist in 1990s Canada – a time where government austerity spurred a need to experiment and try new ways of doing things.
Having seen the impact first-hand of pilot experiments in Toronto aimed at widening access to information and resources for patients and their families, I applied this knowledge to the GOSH Child Health Portal Project (2001 to 2003). Drawing on the wider NHS Modernisation Plan, and a multi-year consultation process undertaken by the hospital, the Project was launched in three phases.
How far the UK had fallen out of step with global developments with the Internet became clear from the start. The distance that had to be traveled in the span of two years was vast. Essentially, to go from being a web laggard to a web leader.
Award-winning (http://www.scribd.com/doc/35249271/Childnet-Awards-2003-Brochure), the GOSH Child Health Portal was called by The Guardian newspaper one of the “three most admired websites in the UK public and voluntary sectors,” and a UK government assessment called the overall GOSH child health web portal a role model for the NHS. At the time, Prime Minister Tony Blair (whose wife, Cherie Blair, was an early supporter and champion of the project) had this to say: “Making sure that your child has helpful, easy-to-read information will make a significant difference to their time in hospital. I am sure that this website will prove very useful for children and their families.”
The project was delivered in three phases. At every stage, progress was communicated to the wider public and colleagues in various ways, via in-house media and through constant engagement with British news outlets. Screen grabs and other resources from the project can be found online here:
The Cable and Wireless Childnet Award called Children First “an outstanding example of how a hospital can create quality, authoritative information on issues relating to health in a fun, child-centered and accessible way.”
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