… And All of Sudden Mongolia!

Human Wrongs Watch

By Badriya Khan

They are not many—just around 2,8 million, but they live on more than 1,564 km2, being the 19th largest and the most sparsely populated independent country on Earth. Nevertheless they have very little arable land. Their religion is Tibetan Buddhism and they have also had a great Empire, founded by Genghis Khan in 1206. They are the Mongols.

Image: Brücke-Osteuropa | Wikimedia Commons

For many years, Hollywood used to be nearly the only single part to show interest in them, producing more or less accurate films about their horses and a sort of a fearsome Genghis Khan. Now it is the turn of big business.

And all of a sudden they are now ‘news-able’ when the United Nations said about them on Oct. 21 this year that the recent economic growth in Mongolia “due to a boom in its mining sector” represents an opportunity to reduce poverty in the country, etc, etc. etc.

It Is the Natural Resources…

During her visit to Mongolia capital Ulaanbaatar, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) administrator Helen Clark encouraged the government “to implement long-term sustainable policies that will increase prosperity for all of its citizens.”.

In a mix of diplomatic warning and political message, Clark said in an international conference in Ulaanbaatar “I am convinced that natural resources can drive human development if they are managed in transparent, inclusive, and sustainable ways.”

The conference, which was co-hosted by UNDP and the government of Mongolia, addressed “how countries can best use the wealth generated by the mining industry sector to support human development.”

We’ve seen so many cases where extractive industry booms generate a lot of gross domestic product (GDP) growth and wealth, but it doesn’t affect poverty reduction,” she said.

Don’t Fall Prey to the Resource Curse”, Please!

Then the UNDP chief immediately warned that Mongolia should avoid falling prey to the “resource curse,” referring to the theory that countries with an abundance of natural resources, particularly non-renewable ones such as minerals and fuels, tend to experience less economic growth than countries with fewer resources.

Mongolia has shown an average growth of nine per cent per year largely due to rising copper prices and gold production.

Clark said the Mongol government “should have a long-term development plan that provides quality public services such as education and health care to ensure sustainable economic growth continues.”

And as usual when it comes to UN officials and Western political leaders when they visits a non-western-industrialised country, Clark also met with civil society organisations, as well as with women leaders to exchange ideas on “promoting women’s political empowerment.”

So far so good. Mongolia has indeed already made some specific positive achievements. Only a couple weeks before Clark’s visit and statements, a UN expert hailed Mongolia for successes in campaign to achieve universal education.

Enrolment rates have reached over 93 per cent at the primary level and 95 per cent at the secondary level in “such a vast territory with so little population density,” said Vernor Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on the right to education on Oct. 9.

Mongolia, Muñoz said, “has shown innovation and creativity in order to provide education to such diverse groups such as nomadic communities and ethnic minorities.”

Copper, Coal, Molybdenum, Tin, Tungsten…and Gold!

Now back to the possible reasons that apparently stand behind this sudden publicity. Mongolia’s economy is centred on agriculture and mining–it has rich mineral resources, and copper, coal, molybdenum, tin, and tungsten. And gold accounts for a large part of its industrial production.

It was reported earlier this year that six big mining companies had prepared to bid for the Tavan Tolgoi area, which is the world’s largest untapped coking coal deposit.

These are ArcelorMittal, Vale, Xstrata, U.S. coal miner Peabody, a consortium of Chinese energy firm Shenhua and Japan’s Mitsui & Co, and a separate consortium of Japanese, South Korean and Russian firms are reportedly the preferred bidders, said Erdenes MGL, the government body which controls Tavan Tolgoi.

Big Business Rushing In

Consequently, they are currently over 30,000 independent businesses in Mongolia, chiefly centred around the capital city, according to reports.

Can one seriously think that Mongolia should avoid falling prey to the “resource curse,” as per Clark’s warning?

Meanwhile, the majority of the Mongol population outside urban areas works in subsistence herding. Livestock typically consists of sheep, goats, cattle, horses, and Bactrian camels. Agricultural crops include wheat, barley, potato, vegetables, tomato, watermelon, sea-buckthorn, and fodder crops.

And also meanwhile, poverty still persists with more than 30 per cent of the Mongol population living on less than 1.25 dollars a day, according to the United Nations.

Related: http://www.un.org/apps/news/printnews.asp?nid=40159


This article can be republished, sourcing and linking to: Human Wrongs Watch


2011 Human Wrongs Watch


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