Mongolia is a country of young people. 36% is aged seventeen years or younger. This new generation is experiencing life very differently to the authoritarian Mongolia their parents knew. With the transition into a market economy, opportunity for economic, social and cultural diversity has opened up, yet the insecurity of unemployment and social services poses a constant threat.
Urbanisation is another distinct trend of twentieth century Mongolia. Nearly one quarter of the population live in the capital city (Ulaanbaatar) alone, of which 500 000 are in the ever-sprawling ‘ger’ districts (urban slums).
Mongolia has one of the fastest growing economies of the world. However much of this growth has been due to the mining sector, upon which there is a heavy reliance (80% of exports). This narrow base raises concerns as financial prosperity is largely at the mercy of global price fluctuations and foreign direct investment.
Whilst still high, the estimated 27% of people living below the poverty line is a rapid improvement since 39% just five years ago. Rapid privatisation since the turn of the century has forced many to become unemployed due the collapse of industry in rural areas. Inflation is high and governance is weak.
Located in Northern Asia, Mongolia is a landlocked country bordered by Russia and China. The terrain is harsh as the semi-arid Gobi Desert comprises the south-central plains and snow-capped mountains overshadow the west and southwest. Seasonal variability in temperature and climate is extreme with warm, short summers and long, dry and very cold winters.
Just 0.8% of land is arable which helps to explain why Mongolia is the world’s most sparsely populated country.
A 53% majority of Mongolians practice Buddhism, whilst 39% pertain to no religion. Khalkha Mongol is the official language.
In the past, the area of modern day Mongolia was ruled under the leadership of Genghis Khan of the Mongol Empire. It later evolved to be incorporated into the Qing Dynasty which collapsed in 1911 prior to a long struggle to receive international recognition of its de facto independence from the Republic of China in 1945 in which time the country had ties to the Soviet Union.
Nowadays, Mongolia has strong institutional frameworks underpinning free and fair democratic elections. The new constitution has been enabled since 1992 and the current president is Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj under whose office has brought strong economic growth and social stability.
- Environmental degradation: Whilst bringing much economic prosperity, the expansion of mining and deforestation has brought with it severe biodiversity loss, air pollution, water contamination and desertification. Virgin land is increasingly being turned into overgrazed agricultural pastures, whilst coal power plants have been the preferred source of energy implemented to keep up with industrial growth and household consumption. Climate change and urbanization puts additional pressure on resources and service provision.
- Unemployment/ crime: Unemployment is closely associated with poverty. Youth unemployment is particularly overwhelming as three-quarters of unemployed Mongolians are aged younger than 35. Reasons for the lack of job opportunities are due to low vocational training opportunities, poor salary incentive, economic restructuring and oversupply of labour. As a result, many resort to crime or the unregulated informal economy.
- Natural Disaster: ‘Dzud’ is the term used to describe the harsh winter conditions which cause widespread death of livestock and consequent loss of livelihood to subsistence farmers. As it occurs seasonally, it is the most devastating natural event on the development of Mongolia, yet forest fires, dust storms, flash floods and earthquakes are other significant afflictions which reveal the country’s need for greater capacity development.
CIA WorldFact Book - https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html
UNDP - http://www.mn.undp.org/content/mongolia/en/home/countryinfo/
Unicef - http://www.unicef.org/mongolia/overview.html
UN Earth Summit - http://www.un.org/esa/earthsummit/mong-cp.htm#chap3