Background: This is the original text from the brochure UNDP in Mongolia: The Guide first published in 1997. It, for the first time, provided a rolling update on what the United Nations was doing in Mongolia, offering key contacts and data to help advance human development in the country. It introduced transparency to the UN’s work in the country and made it easier to hold programme and project staff to account.
Mongolia – Population
With an area of more than 1.5 million square kilometres and a population of 2.38 million as of October 1997, Mongolia has a population density of only 1.5 people per square kilometre, one of the lowest in the world. The country has a relatively low growth rate of 1.6 per cent (1995), down from 2.5 per cent in 1989. At this rate, Mongolia’s population will reach 2.5 million by the year 2000.
Despite the popular image of Mongolians as nomadic herders, it is an increasingly urbanized country – 51.9 per cent of the population is urban, 48.1 per cent rural. More than one quarter of Mongolians live in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. The other major urban centres are Darhan (pop. 90,000) and Erdenet (pop. 65,000 ).
The country is divided into 21 aimags (provinces), plus the autonomous capital region. The aimags are:
In the centre: Tuv, Uvurhangai, Arhangai
In the north: Bulgan, Selenge, Hovsgul, Zavhan, Darhan-Uul, Orhon
In the east: Hentii, Dornod, Suhbaatar
In the west: Hovd, Uvs, Bayan-Olgii, Gov-Altai
In the south: Dundgov, Dornogov, Omnogov, Bayanhongor, Gobisumber
About 86 per cent of the country’s population are Kalkh Mongols. Another 7 per cent are Turkic in origin, mostly Kazakhs living in the western aimags of Bayan-Olgii and Hovd. The rest belong to a wide variety of ethnic groups, including the Buryat, Dariganga, Bayad, Zakchin and Uriankhai. Mongolia’s smallest ethnic group is the Tsaatan, about 200 of whom live as reindeer herders in the far north of the country.
During the communist period, Mongolia was home to tens of thousands of Russians. Few remain.
More than 4 million Mongols live outside Mongolia, in Russia and the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia.
– Mongolia’s per capita GDP is U.S. $359 (1995). But this fails to take into account the cashless subsistence and barter economy widespread in rural areas.
– Poverty, though widespread, is difficult to tabulate. 1996 government figures put the poverty rate at 19.2 per cent – 19.8 per cent for rural areas, 18.7 for urban areas. But State Statistical Office figures for October 1997 indicate 36.8 per cent of urban residents and 27.5 per cent of rural Mongolians live below the poverty line.
– Omnogov, Gobisumber, Hovsgol, Ovorhangai and Bayanhongor are the aimags with the highest poverty rates.
– The average monthly household income in September 1997 was 58,516.7 tugrugs (U.S. $73). Average expenditure was 58,124.8 tugrugs. In 1995, 48 per cent of household expenditure went on food. In poor households, the figure was 64 per cent.
Life expectancy: 63.8 years (1995)
Infant mortality rate: 40 per 1000
Under five mortality rate: 56.4 per 1000
Maternal mortality rate: 185.2 per 100,000 (1995)
One-year-old immunization rate: tuberculosis 94.4 per cent, measles 85.2 per cent (1995)
Access to safe drinking water: rural 89.9 per cent, urban 46.1 per cent (1995)
Access to sanitation: 74 per cent (1995)
Adult literacy rate:
men 97.5 per cent,
women 96.3 per cent
Primary school net enrollment: 93.4 per cent
Secondary school net enrollment: 56.9 per cent
Physicians: 26 per 10,000
Hospital beds: 9.9 per 1000
Daily calorie intake: 2278.2
Data 1996 unless otherwise indicated. Sources: State Statistical Office, Human Development Report Mongolia 1997
Mongolia – Economy
An Economy in Transition:
After 70 years of centrally planned economy, Mongolia is embracing free-market principles with a vengeance. Economic liberalization began under the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party government in the early 1990s. The Democratic Coalition government, elected in June 1996, has vowed sweeping economic changes, including privatization of state assets, liberalization of trade and promotion of foreign investment.
The foreign investment law now encourages foreign investment in the form of share purchases, joint ventures and wholly foreign-owned concerns. Mining companies are given significant tax holidays. In May, 1997 parliament abolished customs duties expect on alcohol, tobacco and oil products.
All of this has been a shock to Mongolia and Mongolians. The country’s GDP shrank by a third in the early 1990s, though it has slowly recovered since. Inflation topped 300 per cent in 1993, but was brought down to below 50 per cent by 1997. The tugrug fell from 40 to U.S. $1 in 1991 to 800 to the dollar in 1997. Unemployment officially stands at 6.5 per cent – unofficial estimates are much higher.
The government’s ambitious privatization scheme has stalled; manufacturing and exports are down; imports are up. Adding to the problems is the fact that world prices for Mongolia’s major export items – copper and cashmere – have fallen.
The state retains at least 50 per cent ownership of the nation’s flagship enterprises, including the national airline, MIAT, the Gobi cashmere company and the power stations.
Mongolia has a resource-based economy, exporting mostly raw materials and importing mostly processed goods. The top exports are mineral products, textiles, base minerals, hides, skins and furs and animals and animal products. The major imports include petroleum products, industrial equipment and consumer goods.
Mongolia’s major trading partners are its two neighbours, China and Russia, though Korea and Japan are becoming more important – and the number-one export destination is Switzerland.
Sidebar: The rural economy
Half of Mongolia’s population is rural, and herding remains the backbone of the Mongolian economy. Agriculture accounts for 30 per cent of the nation’s GDP. The number of herding households grew during the economic turmoil of the early 1990s, and now stands at more than 170,000; there are 30 million head of livestock in Mongolia. Herders produce meat, skins and furs; more and more herders are investing in cashmere goats, a substantial money-earner.
Cultivation of crops, on the other hand, is limited. Before 1990, Mongolia was self-sufficient in cereals and even exported to the Soviet Union. But the sector suffered badly in the early 1990s. The 1997 harvest was 239,000 tonnes, 56 per cent of 1991-95 levels and only 40 per cent of pre-1990 harvests. Mongolia must now import 40 per cent of its cereal needs, a factor that contributes to a vulnerable food-security situation. Cultivation of vegetables is up, but remains minor – only 31,000 tonnes in 1997.
Sidebar: Rich in resources
Mongolia is resource-rich. This vast territory contains 15 per cent of the world’s supply of fluorspar and significant deposits of copper, molybdenum, iron, phosphates, tin, nickel, zinc, tungsten and gold, as well as at least 100 billion tonnes of coal.
Copper is the nation’s number one export.
Minerals account for more than a third of Mongolia’s GDP and earn half of its hard currency. Gold production is increasing.
Mongolia also contains significant reserves of oil, which could transform the economy. But infrastructure and transportation limitations mean that commercial extraction is limited. The completion of a pipeline to China could change all this.
Exchange rate: $1 = Tg 808 (Nov 1997)
GDP: Tg 185.5 billion (1996)
GDP per capita: Tg 228,605 (1996)
Inflation: 325 per cent (1992), 53 per cent (1996)
State budget expenditure: Tg 203.6 billion (Jan-Oct 1997)
State budget revenue: Tg 176 billion (Jan-Oct 1997)
Seven decades of communist rule in Mongolia began to crumble in 1990, when the collapse of the old Eastern Bloc brought the first pro-democracy demonstrations. The ruling Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, which had already initiated a Mongolian version of glasnost, permitted the nation’s first multiparty elections in July, 1990.
Superior organization helped the MPRP win both the 1990 and 1992 elections (taking 71 of 76 parliamentary seats in the latter), but reform picked up speed. In 1992, the country adopted a new Constitution that enshrined human rights, private ownership and a state structure based on separation of power between legislative and judicial branches.
In the June 1996 election, major opposition groups united to form the Democratic Coalition, made up of the National Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Believers’ Party and the Green Party. Somewhat to its own surprise, the Coalition won a healthy 50 of 76 seats in the State Ikh Hural, or parliament. The composition of the Hural is now: National Democrats 35, Social Democrats 15, MPRP 25, Mongolian Traditional United Party 1.
In addition to their economic reforms, the Democrats have carried out radical restructuring of government, slashing the number of Ministries from 14 to 9.
The government has a healthy majority, but tensions sometimes emerge between the coalition partners. Mongolia’s transition to democracy has been remarkably peaceful, and the young democracy is robust – there are now more than 20 political parties in the country.
But economic hardship has caused resentments. In the 1997 Presidential election, voters elected N. Bagabandi, the candidate of the MPRP. In the fall of 1997, the government had to face demonstrations from students and pensioners and an opposition campaign that led to a confidence vote in parliament — a vote the government easily survived.
Mongolia has a parliamentary system of government, with a 76-seat legislature called the State Ikh Hural. The President, directly elected for a four-year term, is second in authority to the legislature, but he appoints judges and has the power of veto (which can be overturned by a 2/3 vote in parliament).
1911 collapse of Manchu Qing Dynasty; Mongolia declares its independence
1919 China invades Mongolia
1921 with Soviet help, Mongolia gains final independence from China
1924 Mongolian People’s Republic declared
1990 pro-democracy protests; Constitution amended; first multiparty elections
1992 second multiparty elections; new Constitution adopted
1996 Democratic Coalition elected as Mongolia’s first non-communist government, headed by Prime Minister Enkhsaikhan
1997 N. Bagabandi from the MPRP elected President
1996 elections: 92.2 per cent
1996 local Hural: 64.0 per cent
1997 presidential: 85.1 per cent
Mongolia – Society and Culture
Mongolia has a unique and durable traditional culture, centred around the herding lifestyle. Herders remain semi-nomadic, moving their animals with the seasons as they have for centuries
Many urban Mongolians retain strong links to the land, both literal and sentimental, and the country’s performing and visual arts often celebrate the landscape and the animals — especially horses — that are central to Mongolian life. Mongolia has several distinctive musical instruments and styles, including the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle), the long song (urtyn duu) and the throat-singing style known as khoomi.
After seven decades of communism, Mongolians are once again celebrating their traditional culture, and embracing the image and legacy of the most famous Mongolian of all time – Chinggis Khan, who in the 13th century initiated the Mongol Empire, the greatest land empire the world has ever known. He gives his name to everything from a brand of vodka to a luxury hotel, and centres for academic Chinggis research have been set up.
In sports, Mongolians favour the “three manly sports” — wrestling, archery and horse racing — that form the core of the annual festival known as Naadam. Mongolian wrestlers have won a number of medals at international competitions and are even entering the field of Japanese Sumo.
The 1990s have seen a flowering of freedom of expression. Mongolia has an extraordinary 525 newspapers and a wide range of magazines, while the first private radio and television stations have been established.
Mongolians have been Buddhists since the 16th century, when the Mongolian king, Altan Khan, was converted by Tibetan lamas. In the pre-revolutionary period, Mongolia was ruled by a series of Living Buddhas, or Jebtzun Damba. The eighth, and last, Jebtzun Damba was removed after the communist takeover.
Traditionally, monasteries were centres both of learning and of power. It’s estimated Mongolia had 100,000 monks, or lamas, in 1921 — one third of the male population. In the 1930s, this power became the focus of a ruthless series of purges that reached a climax in 1937. Most of the country’s monasteries were destroyed, and as many as 17,000 monks were killed.
Today, Mongolia is once again embracing its Buddhist heritage. Monasteries are being restored, and are once again crowded with worshippers. The Dalai Lama is an enormously popular figure and has visited the country several times.
For many Mongolians, Buddhism is flavoured with traces of Shamanism, an even more ancient spirituality.
Mongolia also has a significant Muslim community — about 6 per cent of the population. These are mostly ethnic Kazakhs living in the far west of the country. The opening-up of the country has led to an influx of Christian missionaries, and this remains a source of some tension and debate.
A Young Country:
Mongolia is a remarkably young country — more than 60 per cent of the population is below the age of 30, and 40 per cent of Mongolians are younger than 16. This young generation, with its embrace of Western styles and ideas, is changing the complexion of the country. Western pop music and North American sports like basketball have a huge following among Mongolia’s youth. So, too, do homegrown artists like the pop groups Nikiton and Spike and the singer Saraa.
Television sets: 6.2 per 100 (1995)
Newspapers: 2 per 100 (1995)
Number of telephones: 82,800
Marriage: 10.9 per 1000 over 18
Divorce: 0.7 per 1000 over 18
Number of pensioners: 287,200
Crimes reported: 20,454 (Jan-Oct 97)
As percentage of same period in 1996: 114.4 per cent
Data 1996 unless indicated. Sources: State Statistical Office, Human Development Report Mongolia 1997
Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 5: Waste and Recycling, Editor and Writer: David South (ISBN 978-0-9920217-1-9) (ISSN 2222-9280) (Online: ISSN 2227-0523): Southern Innovator’s fifth issue tackles the theme of waste and recycling in the global South. It has unearthed radical new ways to use the Earth’s resources while efficiently raising living standards for the world’s majority. Waste no longer needs to pile up and pollute the environment and communities; it can be a source of wealth and provide sustainable livelihoods.
Radical ways to alter how things are made, such as the production model called cradle-to-cradle, have the potential to meet human needs without harming the environment and human health. Effective use of renewable energy technologies and sources also could eliminate energy poverty in the global South, dramatically raising living standards and boosting human development.
“We are proud to present our first book entry in David South’s 5th Issue of the Southern Innovator Magazine. The general focus of this paper is to show the rise of the south as a strong economic power, this year’s issue is focussing on the dilemma of strong population growth and limited resources with the focus on waste and recycling issues for example the elephant dung paper production in Thailand, the banning of plastic bags in Uganda or the creation of green fashion in China.”NEEMIC
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“Btw, I really enjoyed reading them, impressive work & a great resource. Looking forward to Issue 6. My best wishes to you & your team at SI.”
Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization, Editor and Writer: David South (ISBN 978-0-9920217-0-2) (ISSN 2222-9280) (Online: ISSN 2227-0523): Southern Innovator’s fourth issue tackled the theme of cities and urbanization in the global South and how innovators are grappling with one of the biggest challenges of our time: the largest migration in history as the world becomes a majority urban place. Southern Innovator profiles new building technologies and innovative designs and also offers social solutions to make living urban better, while improving human development.
Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 3: Agribusiness and Food Security, Editor and Writer: David South (ISSN 2222-9280) (Online: ISSN 2227-0523): Southern Innovator’s third issue tackled the theme of agribusiness and food security in the global South. It found innovators were proving it is possible to boost farm yields with new techniques that are not costly nor harmful to the environment. It also found the rise of new information technologies, such as mobile phones, offers unlimited options to make farming and food distribution more efficient, profitable and food secure. These information technologies can turn small-scale farmers into agribusinesses if applied correctly.
Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 2: Youth and Entrepreneurship, Editor and Writer: David South (ISSN 2222-9280) (Online: ISSN 2227-0523): Southern Innovator’s second issue tackled the theme of youth and entrepreneurship in the global South. It discovered a growing youth population across the global South and found a disconnect between the enthusiasm and talent of youth and their ability to connect with local economies. This was causing systemic unemployment among youth and wasting a great opportunity to spur growth and innovation in poor countries.
Southern Innovator chronicled various business models that were applicable to young entrepreneurs. Importantly, the business models have been proven to work in developing countries.
“Thank you David – Your insight into the issues facing us a “global Village” is made real in the detail of your article – 10 out of 10 from the moladi team.” Moladi: Building Communities
Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology, Editor and Writer: David South (ISSN 2222-9280) (Online: ISSN 2227-0523): Launched in May 2011, the new global magazine Southern Innovator profiles the people across the global South shaping our new world, eradicating poverty and working towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They are the innovators. It chronicles what has been called the Development 2.0 Revolution: the use of innovative new technologies to radically alter the dynamics of development.
Southern Innovator’s first issue tackled the theme of mobile phones and information technology in the global South. It identified mobile phone pioneers and transformative information technologies reducing poverty and boosting human development in the global South. It was one of the first publications to document and capture this trend.
“What a tremendous magazine your team has produced! It’s a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space… Really looking forward to what you produce in issues #2 and #3. This is great, engaging, relevant and topical stuff.”Rose Shuman, Founder & CEO, Open Mind and Question Box
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Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless (ISBN 1-55022-434-4): Covering the period of the late 1990s, with Mongolia embroiled in a major economic, social and political crisis, Wild East gives an insightful snapshot of life lived in a country undergoing significant turbulence.
“Jill Lawless’ book is not a scholarly tome per se, yet it is of definite value to the contemporary Mongolian scholar, because it captures a mood flushed out by anecdotal detail of a specific period – detail that only a resident, not a visitor, can really discover. Thus the book provides the researcher with all-important firsthand observations of key social and political events, which give life and context to historical analysis.
“Lawless’ period is 1997-1999, the heart of the tumultuous and ill-spent years of Democratic Coalition Government. These years, not fully representative of Mongolia in the 1990s, were a period of great hopes for democratic flowering and free market enterprise leading the nation to prosperity and progress. The pipe dream was dashed by the immaturity and selfishness of the Coalition party members. Still, those were heady years, and Lawless, as editor of the English language independent newspaper the UB [Ulaanbaatar] Post, was … “Alicia J. Campi, Mongolian Studies, Vol. 25 (2002), pp. 112-114
“As Canadian journalist Jill Lawless points out in the introduction to this engaging portrait of modern Mongolia, the short version of the country’s history is simple: They came thundering out of nowhere, terrorized and conquered most of the known world, and then they went home.
It’s probably not too much of an exaggeration to imagine Mongol warlords at the peak of their power in the 13th century sitting around with Genghis Khan debating the merits of attacking Russia or sacking Burma. Within a space of a few decades they had subdued an area stretching from Korea to Hungary and Vietnam to Afghanistan.
But the empire of the Khan imploded and the world’s consciousness of these fascinating people, and the great grasslands and deserts of their homeland, faded as they disappeared for centuries under the iron-fisted domination of first China and then the Soviet Union.
In Wild East, Lawless brings us up to date. Yes, more than half the population of this Europe-sized country still lives on the steppes in felt tents with their horses, sheep and yaks.
But now you can surf the Internet in Ulan Bator, find Mercedes in the streets, party in Western-style nightclubs and see trendy teens rollerblading around Soviet-era apartment blocks.
Lawless gives us a revealing, and often amusing, account of her journeys through a beautiful country awakening from a tumultuous era that saw it wrenched from feudalism to communism and then into the uncharted future of rampant capitalism, searching for its future in the new millennium.”The Globe and Mail, Laszlo Buhasz, 25 November 2000
Designed in Mongolia
Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia by Robert Ferguson (ISBN 9992950137): The Environmental Public Awareness Handbook was published in 1999 and features the case studies and lessons learned by UNDP’s Mongolian Environmental Public Awareness Programme (EPAP). The handbook draws on the close to 100 small environmental projects the Programme oversaw during a two-year period. These projects stretched across Mongolia, and operated in a time of great upheaval and social, economic and environmental distress. The handbook is intended for training purposes and the practice of public participation in environmental protection.
In its 2007 Needs Assessment, the Government of Mongolia found the EPAP projects “had a wide impact on limiting many environmental problems. Successful projects such as the Dutch/UNDP funded Environmental Awareness Project (EPAP), which was actually a multitude of small pilot projects (most costing less than $5,000 each) … taught local populations easily and efficiently different ways of living and working that are low-impact on the environment.” Many of these ideas live on in the work of both the World Bank and UNEP in Mongolia.
Designed in Mongolia
Mongolian Rock Pop by Peter Marsh (ISBN 99929-5-018-8): In the Mongolian language, the book explores how Mongolia’s vibrant rock and pop music scene led on business innovation and entrepreneurship in the country during the transition years (post-1989). Written by an ethnomusicologist, it details the key moments and events in this story, while splicing the narrative with first-person interviews with the major players.
Designed in Mongolia
In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999, Editor-in-Chief: David South, Research Editor: Julie Schneiderman (ISBN 99929-5-043-9): In their own words compiles by theme the vast number of stories and features by journalists on Mongolia’s transition experience from 1997 to 1999. A rich and unusual resource for a developing country, this book offers the reader a one-stop snapshot of how a country handles the wrenching social, political, cultural, economic and environmental challenges of changing from one political and economic system to another.
An excellent resource for scholars of austerity crises and for those seeking understanding on how to plot a path out of an austerity crisis. In particular, the collection of articles and stories show the impact austerity has on people and their lives. Unadorned by backward-looking historical narratives, these are accounts fizzing with the energy of the moment: a first draft of a tough time for most Mongolians.
Mongolian Green Book by Robert Ferguson: In the Mongolian language, the book details effective ways to live in harmony with the environment while achieving development goals. Based on three years’ work in Mongolia – a Northeast Asian nation coping with desertification, mining, and climate change – the book presents tested strategies.
Mongolia Update 1998 Book, Editor and Writer: David South, Researcher: G. Enkhtungalug: Whilst in Mongolia as head of the United Nations’ communications (1997-1999), I wrote an update on how Mongolia was coping with hyperinflation, shock therapy, austerity and the Asian economic crisis. The mission simultaneously had to deal with the 1997 Asian Crisis and the worst peacetime economic collapse in post-WWII history.
Launched in 1999 towards the end of my two-year assignment in Mongolia, this book is a unique resource for a developing country: a one-stop compilation of journalism chronicling the ups and downs of life in a country where the political and economic system has been turned on its head. You can download an edited selection of the book from Google Books here: In their own words: Selected writings by journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999.