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Blue Sky Bulletin

Editor: David South

First launched in 1997, Blue Sky Bulletin was the monthly newsletter for the United Nations mission in Mongolia.

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Issue 10

More UNDP newsletters here:

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions Newsletter

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Freedom Of Expression: Introducing Investigative Journalism To Local Media In Mongolia 1999 | 25 January 2016

By David South, UNV Information Officer

UNV News

05 June 1999

Bonn, Germany: “The training allows us to learn about western theories of journalism,” says Mr. Nyamjav, editor of the Erkh Choloo (Freedom) newspaper. A UNDP project in Mongolia has brought journalists from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, to run an investigative journalist training programme for their colleagues in the rural community of Moron. The programme introducing investigative journalism to students consists of a workshop and various field assignments. Here, I report on day two of the training.

9:00 a.m.

Eleven student journalists and the two trainers, Ms Oyunsetseg and Mr. Batbold from the Press Institute of Mongolia, quickly run through the day’s schedule. The journalists will spend the next two hours interviewing subjects for their stories. All the journalists say this is the first time they’ve explored in detail this sub-category of journalism. Not all the students are experienced journalists, but this is made up for by the quality of the two facilitators, both of whom keep the workshop lively.

11:30 a.m.

The debate begins over the choice of stories. One team has chosen to look at poverty alleviation projects at the Bak (local government) level. They want to write a story looking at poor accountability for loans, the practice of nepotism and the ability of recipients to start small businesses. The team investigating power black-outs wants to conduct further interviews with the poorest people affected by such interruptions.

4:00 p.m.

Back at the offices of the Erkh Choloo newspaper, editor Nyamjav discusses the week’s news with his graphic designer. The skills of the staff impress me. While they have only one computer and barren offices, the paper won an award from the Press Institute for being the best local paper in 1997. The newspaper will be cut off from local government subsidies for printing at the end of this year and is already making plans to find other sources of revenue. Nyamjav is pleased with the results of the UNDP project, saying: “It has noticeably changed our stories – I know how to criticise reporters and push them to be more investigative.”

8:30 p.m.

Outside Ulaanbaatar a petrol shortage has hit hard. At a Moron filling station drivers patiently wait for new supplies to arrive or to receive their ration. Not only is there no fuel, there is also no electricity. On a field assignment the journalists investigating the power black-outs interview Mr. Sukhbaatar the power station director who says 3,500 households owe the utility Tug 27 million (US$27,411). It is the poorest households that are unable to pay in the Ger districts. A Ger is a Mongolian felt tent. Without payment, their power is cut off.

9:00 p.m.

I am asked to conduct a one-hour discussion of my experiences as an investigative journalist in Canada and England. The debate afterwards is lively. A common question is how to deal with pressure from government and corporations to alter the content of stories. The difficulty the regional journalists have in distributing newspapers to remote communities is a common complaint. They ask how international donors could help in this matter, pointing out that in the past the government subsidised newspaper distribution to a greater extent. They would like to be linked with international journalists in some way, preferably through an association.

A useful source of information: www.un-mongolia.mn

“Introducing Investigative Journalism to Local Media in Mongolia”, 03 July 1999, World Volunteer Web.
“Freedom of Expression: Introducing investigative journalism to local media in Mongolia”: UNV News, June 1999.
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Development Profile: UNDP In The Southern Gobi Desert | May-June 1998

By David South, Blue Sky Bulletin (Dalanzadgad, Mongolia), May-June 1998

Development Profile: UNDP in the Southern Gobi Desert

In late May UNDP visited its environment and poverty projects in Omnogobi or South Gobi on the border with China and in the heart of the Gobi Desert. The aimag (province) is home to 45,000 people spread over a territory of 165,000 kilometers. It is a harsh environment where temperatures can plummet to minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter and shoot up to plus 40 in summer. What is striking about the capital of Omnogobi, Dalanzadgad, is how well things are working. It is a garden capital – despite being in the desert the central boulevard is covered in trees – and trade with China has brought a prosperity for some herdsmen, many of whom buzz around the town on Planeta motorcycles. The offices of the Malchin television company are hidden by a bouquet of white satellite dishes – it is not an uncommon sight to see a ger with a satellite dish in South Gobi. 

“Dishing up development news on Mongolia”: a UNDP Mongolia Communications Office poster campaign from the late 1990s. Photo: David South.
In 1998 Der Spiegel’s “Kommunikation total” issue profiled the global connectivity revolution underway and being accelerated by the Internet boom of the late 1990s. It chose my picture of a satellite dish and a ger in the Gobi Desert to symbolise this historic event.

“The transformation of Mongolia from a largely rural nomadic society of herdsmen to a community dominated by the increasingly ultra-globalized city of Ulan Bator, where almost a third of the population lives, is nothing short of astounding.” The New Mongolia: From Gold Rush to Climate Change, Association for Asian Studies, Volume 18:3 (Winter 2013): Central Asia

Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine and is one of Europe’s largest publications of its kind. It chose my photo taken in the Gobi Desert for its profile of the Internet revolution in 1998.

English translation: “Total communication: the seventh continent – 
The cell phone society was just the beginning: Experts see a new continent emerging in the spheres of the Internet. The information elite live here, surrounded by PCs, pagers and power books. The multimedia industry is becoming the key industry of the 21st century – with serious consequences for society.” (http://t-off.khd-research.net/Spiegel/10.html)

Electricity in the air – 85 women discover the Women’s Development Fund

The Mongolian Human Development Report singled out South Gobi for having the highest poverty incidence in Mongolia (41.9 per cent). While this ranking is hotly debated by locals who say it is a statistical anomaly resulting from their low population, there is no question life is hard in the Gobi. 

In a crowded room in the Governor’s building, 85 of the poorest women in Dalanzadgad have gathered to hear about an innovative UNDP-initiated fund. The meeting, organised by the NGO the Liberal Women’s Brain Pool, is introducing the Women’s Development Fund. Many questions are asked as to why some of the women were passed over when the local government started distributing poverty alleviation funds. 

With the assistance of the British Government who donated Tg 12 million, these women are getting a chance. The Women’s Development Fund was founded in partnership with the Poverty Alleviation Programme Office to take account of the unique role women have in the prosperity of families. Support is key and the women will be assisted by community activists as they develop their project ideas and begin to implement them. In early June they started to receive funding for their projects. 

Note: This story was part of a series highlighting life and the state of human development in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert after the publishing of the country’s first human development report in 1997

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2020

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Women scientists prove potency of Mongolian beverage

By David South, Blue Sky Bulletin (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia), Issue 10, February-March 1999

Horse mare’s milk, drunk by Mongolians for centuries, has been proven by a team of women scientists to be as healthy as many Mongolians believe. In a UNDP-funded project, women scientists from Mongolia, China and South Korea are exploring new ways to generate income through science. A joint Mongolian/Korean team confirmed the national wisdom of using mare’s milk for treating stomach and intestine inflammations, as well as tuberculosis, liver diseases and cancer. They say the frothy white milk is packed with nutrients and vitamins.

The UNDP-funded Subregional Project of Northeast Asian Countries on Gender Equality through Science and Technology started last March. A team of Mongolian women scientists in the project made the discovery when they explored the bio-chemical composition and immunological activity of Mongolian mare’s milk.

Mongolians have used mare’s milk as part of the traditional diet for centuries. During holidays many urban Mongolians drop in on their rural relatives for a drink of the elixir, saying it will help them to alleviate stress and to heal some chronic diseases. There are even cases of foreign tourists believing mare’s milk is the elixir of life, and will make them younger.

The researchers confirmed that the drying process of mare’s milk does not adversely affect its nutritional value, including proteins, lipids, vitamins, lactose and fatty acids. The mare’s milk was processed using spray drying and lyophilise methods. The research is making it possible to better preserve mare’s milk in the off-season.

The main goal of the project is to find new ways to generate income for poor women. In the case of mare’s milk, rural women will be able to turn to local manufacturers who can preserve the milk. The researchers say the South Koreans expressed keen interest in producing dry diet from mare’s milk.

The Blue Sky Bulletin newsletter provided timely and valuable updates on Mongolia in the late 1990s. In particular, it was able to highlight urgent health needs for a population undergoing extreme crisis resulting from food supply disruptions, loss of income, social distress (alcoholism, family breakdown etc.), sexually transmitted diseases, and extreme weather. Stories from the newsletter have been cited in many journals and books since 2000, and the high quality of its contributers is evident in their scholarship and career success since. An example is below:

Poor Nutrition Taking its Toll on the Health of Mongolians By Jacinda Mawson

Rickets very prevalent in Mongolia – 1998

Prevalence of rickets in Mongolia

Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr (1998) 7(3/4): 325-328
U Tserendolgor1 MD pubhealth@magicnet.mn, JT Mawson2 MA, AC MacDonald3 MSc and M Oyunbileg1 MD, PhD

“The high prevalence of rickets in Mongolian children is a serious public health concern. In addition to the adverse effects on growth, development and immune function, it is probably indicative of widespread subclinical vitamin D deficiency.”

Another beverage was catching the interest of Mongolians in the late 1990s: beer. 

From The Far Eastern Economic Review, February 18, 1999

A New Brew: As Mongolia changes under the influence of economic reforms, the country’s elite are trading fermented mare’s milk and vodka for a new status symbol: beer 

Story by Jill Lawless

Photo by David South

Jill Lawless has two websites about her book, Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia.

Designed in London, the first website for Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia launched in 2003.
The new brand site for Jill Lawless is currently under construction.

More of Jill Lawless‘ journalism for The Far Eastern Economic Review here: https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Far_Eastern_Economic_Review/SkuvAAAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=david%20south,%20Mongolian%20rock

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052

© David South Consulting 2021

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