The birthplace of Genghis “Chinggis” Khan, Mongolia often brings to mind the image of a horde of battle- hardened cavalry. Modern Mongolia is peaceful, comprised of Buddhist people striving to live in harmony with nature. With an intriguing past and complex present, Mongolia is a unique country where the landscape, history, and people intertwine to create a place unlike any other on earth.
Mongolia is a landlocked, lower middle-income country located in the heart of Central Asia, between Russia and China. It has a population of 3 million people, and the lowest population density in the world. Approximately 1.3 million Mongolians live in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, 58% of which are under the age of 30. Almost 27% of the population lives under the national poverty line, and 27% live on less than $1.25 a day.The average life expectancy is 69 years old. Mongolia has a literacy rate of 97%. Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, is the coldest capital city in the world, and the most polluted city in the world according to a 2011 World Health Organization (WHO) study.
Culture and Climate
During winter, temperatures can reach -40oF for days at a time. The sustained severe cold causes massive loss to livestock herds almost every year. The Mongolian people require great strength and deep reserves of will to survive in this very difficult environment.They have lived and thrived in this unforgiving environment for many hundreds of years and have a deep enduring fondness for their homeland.
The harsh winter conditions and loss of livestock often result in swells of the urban populations as people seek shelter from the cold. Citizens often migrate to areas surrounding the city, living in gers or yurts (felt tents). These areas are called “ger districts”. It is estimated that 70% of the Ulaanbaatar population live in the ger districts. This migration of the rural population to the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar in search of economic opportunities has accelerated rapidly since the mid-1990s. The result is a demographic transformation of Ulaanbaatar and some smaller provincial cities. According to the municipal government, 30,000 to 40,000 rural people arrive in Ulaanbaatar every year. This is the equivalent of the population of an entire province.
Mongolia has one of the last nomadic cultures on earth.The people are deeply tied to the land and to their history. With livestock outnumbering people 17 to 1, an estimated 30% of the population maintains a traditional pastoral nomadic lifestyle, spreading themselves over the 1.62 million square kilometers of land. Nomads move anywhere from four to ten times a year, cycling through the same locations each year. The average population density in Mongolia is 1.5 square kilometers per person, making access to health care and other amenities very difficult.
Although ethnic diversity is high in the northern and western parts of the country, 86% of the Mongolian population claims their tribal descent as ‘Khalk’, or from the tribe of Genghis Khan. Other tribes include, but are not limited to Kazakhs, Tuvans, Altai Uriankhai, Buriats, and Dukha. Mongolian culture was heavily influenced by Soviet communism, emphasizing a collective society that was in opposition to the country’s long ingrained self-sufficiency.
Government and Economy
Mongolia is currently a parliamentary republic. In this system, parliamentary representatives are elected by popular vote. These representatives elect the government. The president is voted in by general election.There are many different political parties in Mongolia. Three parties have alternated government rule for the last 20 years.
The Mongolian economy was traditionally based on herding livestock, so most of Mongolia’s culture is inseparable from the horse. Mongolian culture is steeped in a past of nomadic tradition, warrior ancestry, and strong Tibetan Buddhist influence, overlapped by Chinese rule for several hundred years. Starting in the late 20th century, mining became central to Mongolia’s economy. Copper, gold, coal, molybdenum, tin, and tungsten are the primary mineral resources in Mongolia. Until 1990, one third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was dependent on the USSR. That economic paradigm ended abruptly in 1990 with the imminent break-up of the Soviet Union. Since that time, Mongolia has received generous sums of foreign aid to support its transition to a free market economy. The economic future of Mongolia will depend on its ability to utilize mineral resources.The effect of mining income on Mongolia’s general population, specifically the poorest members, has yet to be seen. Rapid development from foreign investment peaked in 2011 to 2013. In 2012 Mongolia was the fastest growing economy in the world. Since then, foriegn investment has dropped by more than 75%, and the local currency has devalued against the dollar by 40%. Currently, inflation averages around 12%. Mongolia is currently in a deep recession.