Mongolia: The Land of Eternal Blue Sky

Mongolia is an East Asian country which is often referred to as “the land of the blue sky”, as it has over 260 days of clear, blue sky. It is also known as the second-largest landlocked country and the 18th largest and the most sparsely populated sovereign states in the world, with a population of over 3.3 million.
At 1,564,116 square kilometres (603,909 sq mi), the land contains very little arable land, with the Gobi Desert to the south and the cold, mountainous regions to the north and west. A large part of Mongolia consists of Mongolian-Manchurian steppe grassland, with forested areas accounting for 11, 2% of the total land area. Mongolia as a whole is considered to be part of the Mongolian Plateau.

The geographical location of the country makes it vulnerable to the occasionally harsh climatic conditions known as zud. Zud, a natural disaster unique to Mongolia, causes large proportions of the country’s livestock to die of starvation or freezing temperatures, or both, resulting in economic upheaval for the largely pastoral population.

Ulaanbaatar, the capital and the largest city, is home to some 45 per cent of the country’s population. The average annual temperature in Ulaanbaatar is −1.3 ° C (29.7 ° F), which is why the capital city also shares the rank of the coolest capital city in the world with Moscow, Ottawa and Nur-Sultan.
Approximately 30% of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic and horse culture is still integral. The majority of the country’s population are Buddhists and the non-religious population is the second-largest group. Islam is the dominant religion among ethnic Kazakhs. The majority of the state’s citizens are of Mongol ethnicity, although Kazakhs, Tuvans, and other minorities also live in the country, especially in the west.
Russian is the most frequently spoken foreign language in Mongolia, followed by English, although English has been gradually replacing Russian as the second language. Korean has gained popularity as tens of thousands of Mongolians work in South Korea
In 1990, Mongolia abandoned its 70-year-old Soviet-style one-party system in favour of political and economic reforms and multiparty elections. Following the adoption of a new constitution in 1992, Mongolia was turned into a dynamic multiparty democracy, from a closed single-party communist state. Accompanying this transition was the gradual introduction of free-market reforms and relatively well maintained political stability. Mongolia joined the World Trade Organization in 1997 and seeks to expand its participation in regional economic and trade groups.

In 2016 the soviet-era Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) gained a parliamentary majority, and in 2017 Khaltmaagiin Battulga of the MPP was elected as the president. Economic issues were prominently addressed in both elections. Agriculture and mining are still the most important sectors of the economy. Mongolia enjoys observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and is considered to be a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. Most of the ethnic Mongolians live in the People’s Republic of China today.
Mongolia’s economic freedom score is 55.9, making Mongolia’s economy the 127th freest in the 2020 Index. Its overall score increased by 0.5 points due to an increase in the government integrity score. Mongolia ranks 30th among 42 countries in the Asia-Pacific region and its overall score is well below the regional and global averages.
In Mongolia, economic freedom has deteriorated in recent years. GDP growth, however, continued at a good pace due to higher prices for coal and copper and increased exports to China. One of the greatest obstacles to more economic freedom is the painfully inadequate rule of law of the country. Government corruption is widespread, and the courts are unreliable. Some minor transparency measures have been proposed, but it is unlikely that more substantive measures will be introduced, such as bans on unethical business practices, increased mandatory sentences for corruption offences, or tougher anti-corruption efforts.

The legislation is often drafted and implemented with little input from companies. Fees paid by plaintiffs have recently been reduced, but businesses report long delays in reaching judgments and then again before judgments are enforced. Labour law is not restrictive. Many professional categories requiring advanced degrees are facing labour shortages. Higher mining revenues have helped reduce budget deficits. Although there is a well-established register for real property, there is no central register for rights of use, and it is not easy for purchasers to learn who might have conflicting rights. A new regulation adopted in April 2019 simplifies the President’s ability to remove judges and prosecutors and is seen as a potential threat to the independence of the judiciary.
After the outbreak of COVID-19 the economy is likely to lose steam in the second quarter as social distancing has taken its toll on domestic activity and external demand has remained low. In particular, the industrial activity, which contracted sharply, was affected by restrictions. Moreover, the external sector deteriorated significantly in Q2, with oil exports particularly affected by a combination of lower volumes and an overall decline in prices. As Mongolia’s economy relies heavily on trade, external financing challenges have arisen as a result of the deterioration of the balance of payments.

We don’t know the full impact of the pandemic, but we know it’s significant. For example, the economy contracted by 10.7% in the first quarter of 2020 and government revenue fell by 8.6% year on year, while expenditure increased by 19.3%.
Mongolia has a large amount of debt, which means that there is an increased risk of default on debt. According to the IMF, GDP is also expected to fall sharply to minus 1% this year, down from 5.3% in 2019.
To strengthen the economy, the Government has approved economic stimulus packages worth more than 10% of GDP, including several measures to support vulnerable groups, including cash benefits; mortgages, consumer and business loan repayments have been delayed; and the mortgage rate has been reduced.
The government also launched the IMF’s Rapid Financing Instrument in June and received a loan from the Asian Development Bank in May, with the combined support of approximately USD 200 million. In other news, the incumbent Mongolian People’s Party won a majority in the parliamentary elections held on 24 June to maintain political stability.

According to the World Health Organization report, Mongolia has made significant progress in improving the health of its citizens in recent years. Deaths among infants and children have been reduced and the country has maintained its polio-free status and endemic transmission of measles and tetanus has been eliminated. However, Mongolia faces several stubborn health challenges, including illnesses. Hepatic cancer caused by chronic hepatitis and an increasing burden of non-communicable disease. Growing urbanization presents new challenges, such as air pollution and access. Safe drinking water and sanitation for communities on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar.
To address these issues and to support the progress of Mongolia towards universal health coverage and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) it is important to strengthen the health system and the efficiency of major health programs are improved. To that end, cross-sectoral cooperation is vital.
Some Interesting Facts about Mongolia by Zoe Stephens
• The capital Ulaanbaatar means ‘red hero’
• The word ‘Mongol’ means brave.
• Most Mongolians traditionally live in a Ger (meaning home). Many Mongolians who live in the cities still own or have access to a ger using them as summer homes, in June, July and August.
• One of the biggest holidays of the year is the Naadam Festival. This is also the biggest sports event.
• The second-largest holiday in Mongolia is New Year.
• Mongolia is home to the world’s oldest national park.
• The endangered 2-hump camel, the Bactrian camel, is native to Mongolia.
• There is a camel festival to celebrate these famous camels and protect the species. This camel festival first began in 1997.
• Native to Mongolia is also the snow-leopard.
• One-third of the world’s snow leopard population lives in Mongolia.
• Mongolian people’s guest culture is very strong. They will often greet their guests with a bowl of ‘airag’. This is fermented horse milk. It is considered disrespectful to refuse a cup of this.
• Even in winter, Mongolians like to eat ice-cream. This is sold in paper boxes in the winter. No need for a fridge in such cold temperatures.
• There is a theory that Mongolian horsemen first invented the ice cream. They would take animal intestines on long journeys. The combination of freezing and being jolted around on the horse produced an ice-cream like substance. This then made its way to China, Marco Polo, and then Italy!
• Approximately 25-40% of Mongolians still live nomadic lifestyles.
• Mongolia as a country is “outer Mongolia”. Inner Mongolia is still part of China as an autonomous region.
• Mongolia is the second-largest landlocked country in the world.
• Mongolia holds the Guinness World Record for the largest wrestling competition in the world. This was for the Mongolian National Wrestling Match in 2011.
• There are 13 times more horses in Mongolia than humans.
• In Mongolia, sheep outnumber humans 35 to 1.
• Mongolia became a part of the UN in 1961.
• Mongolia was not recognized as a country by many countries (including the US) until 1987.
• Genghis Khan himself was illiterate, however, he introduced the first writing system to Mongolia in the early 13th century. He borrowed this script from the script of the Uyghurs. This script is written vertically from left to right.
• Mongolia adopted the Latin alphabet in the 1930s. It was then replaced with the Cyrillic alphabet in 1941, with two additional letters (ö and ü sounds) otherwise not found in Russian.
• Mongolian native horses are the last truly wild horses left on the planet. They have 66 chromosomes, one or two more than the average horse.
• A mother with five or more children is celebrated as an “Honoured Mother”.
• Throat singers in Mongolia use the technique to sing through their throat and nose at the same time, producing two different sounds simultaneously. This is popular whilst riding a horse.
• Music is an important aspect of Mongolian culture and is used to express emotions for nature, the land, the horses, and for loved ones.

By Jumana Jabeer

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