Like the quietly content man who finds himself an overnight lottery millionaire, Mongolia’s sudden and rapid growth upon the realisation that it sits, literally, on a mineral-rich treasure trove worth billions, has doubtless come as a bit of a shock, the effects of which are cutting through its traditional core like a (double-edged) sword.
Herders in the countryside are now struggling to survive as their nomadic way of life dissolves and urbanisation is high, but given their lack of qualified skills, new urban residents are finding themselves with few opportunities in the formal job sector. Similarly, the fast pace of change throughout the country is seeing an increasing amount of land being leased to development interests, but this activity could leave the landscape fragmented, severing vital passageways for animal migration as well as monopolising freshwater sources on which people and animals depend.
Mongolia needs to develop and to build infrastructure for the future stability of its people, but equally important is the safeguarding of its pristine habitats, so it doesn’t lose the wild frontier spirit that makes it Mongolia. To do that a development model must be found that gives equal weight to the needs of conservation, herders and developers alike.
Jess Brooks, from our supplier, Eternal Landscapes shares her opinion on the issue of poverty in Mongolia:
“The political liberation of Mongolia in 1990 came as an economic disaster for the country. As the decades of communism ended so did the heavy subsidies that Soviet Russia had paid to keep Mongolia as a buffer state between itself and China. Known as the ‘dark years’, many families were plunged into poverty and, with the shutting of most state industries, unemployment. These are issues that still affect Mongolia today, but there are many great local projects in Mongolia that between them provide greater opportunities and benefits for local people and the communities. One of my favourites is the New Way Life Mongolian Quilting Centre. Set up by Selenge Tserendash to teach unemployed and vulnerable women in Ulaan Baatar and rural Mongolia in the traditional skills of quilting and embroidery and offer a safe workplace for them.”
Jess Brooks, from our supplier Eternal Landscapes, shares her opinion on the issue of modernity versus tradition in Mongolia:
“It is important for any traveller to Mongolia to accept that Mongolians wish to develop economically and gain access to material possessions that we take for granted. A majority of herding families now use mobile phones and have televisions in the ger. This does not mean their way of life is dying out – they are adapting to the 21st century and they have every right to do so – Mongolia is a tough country, from its infrastructure to its climate and having access to a mobile phone also makes their way of life safer.”
John Williamson, from our supplier Zavkhan shares his opinion on the issue of mining in Mongolia:
“You can’t really talk about Mongolia without talking about the country’s current mining boom, which is changing things very fast. There is incredible amounts of mineral wealth in Mongolia, apparently there is enough wealth in the ground to give each person in the country a million dollars. Foreign multinational companies are moving in thick and fast to develop the mining industry, which is starting to produce wealth, but the issue lies in how the country will best spread that wealth, so that it can benefit the poor people living in the slums and alleviate the growing problems there. It’s normal for 33% of the wealth generated from mining to stay in the country, but there are rumours of corruption and the danger is that the profit will end up in back pockets instead of filtering out to the Mongolian people. The government does have agreements in place with external companies who have a responsibility to train up a certain number of unskilled locals to become employable within the industry though, but mining is never going to employ enough people to spread wealth that way – the government will have to find other ways to spread the benefits to its people.”