Country at a glance
- Did you know?
- About four million people (nearly double the population of Mongols) live outside Mongolia, most of them in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in China. In Mongolia the written script is Cyrillic, while in China they use the classical script, adapted from Uyghur.
- Northern Asia
- 2,996,081 (July 2008 estimate)
- Geography: Mountains in west and north; vast semi-desert and desert plains
- Climate: Continental with large daily and seasonal temperature ranges
- Religion: Buddhist Lamaist 50%, Shamanist and Christian 6%, Muslim 4%, none 40%
- Language: Khalkha Mongol 90%, Turkic, Russian
- GDP per person (PPP): $3,200 (2007 estimate)
GDP by sector: Agriculture 18.8% Industry 40.4% Services 40.8%
- Mixed parliamentary/presidential
Mongolia is a large landlocked country bordering China in the south and Russia in the north. It has an area of 1,564,116 square kilometres (slightly less than Queensland’s 1,730,648 square kilometres). The Mongolian Altai mountain chain dominates the west of the country and includes the highest point Nayramadlin Orgil (also known as Huyten Orgil- Mount Friendship) 4,374 metres. In the north-west, the great lakes include Uvs Nuur, a natural World Heritage Site, Hovsgol Nuur and Hyargas Nuur. There are also many extinct volcanoes, hot springs and frequent earthquakes. The north-central regions are drained by the River Selenga and the north-west by the River Hovd. Much of the rest of the country is made up of plains – some grassy, some semi-desert and the semi-arid Gobi Desert (33% of the total surface area).
Mongolia has an extreme continental climate with long, cold, dry winters and short summers, during which most of the rain falls. Rainfall diminishes north to south-east from 250-375 millimetres in the mountainous uplands to below 120 millimetres in the Gobi. Severe storms with dust and blizzards, known as zud, have been known to kill people and livestock. In the capital Ulaanbaatar the average temperatures are January -25.6°C and July 16.1°C with an average annual rainfall 208 millimetres.
Mongolia is rich in natural resources and biodiversity. The Uvs Nuur Basin (1,068,853 hectares) is an important area for migrating birds, the grassy plains support a rich diversity of birds and the desert is home to gerbils, jerboas (desert rodents) and the marbled polecat. The mountains are an important refuge for the globally endangered snow leopard, Argali sheep, and the Asiatic ibex.
The growing population, particularly in urban areas, has put an enormous pressure on land and natural resources. Land degradation, deforestation and desertification have been caused by increasingly frequent droughts and human activities such as exploitation of grasslands and mining. There is severe air pollution in Ulaanbaatar and mercury pollution in the rivers as a result of poor mining practices.
Just over half of the population live in cities, with the largest being Ulaanbaatar (627,300), Darkhan (87,100), Choybalsan (79,900), Erdenet (59,100) and Oligiy (29,400). The rest of the population live nomadic lives in small communities across the grassy plains.
Culture and identity
The population is predominantly Mongol (85%) and Turkic (7%). Mongolians are traditionally nomadic, travelling with herds of sheep, cattle, goats, camels and horses.
A yellow, national emblem, the soyombo, is on the flag-pole side red band of the flag. It is a vertical arrangement of symbols representing fire, sun, and moon. The two triangles pointing downward symbolise death of enemies. The Taijitu, or Yin-Yang, symbol represents the unity of all opposites. The two horizontal rectangles represent honesty and fairness between rulers and the people and the enclosing rectangles represent a fortress signifying the unity of the Mongol people.
The traditional clothing of a long dress with a sash round the waist is known as a del and worn by both men and women. Summer dels are made from silk or cotton and winter dels are made from wool lined with fur.
Naadam is the major festival which sees Mongolians gather for archery, wrestling and horse riding.
Government spending on health is about 4% of GDP, and Mongolians have a relatively high life expectancy of 67.3 years (men 64.9 years and women 69.8 years). Most children are fully immunised and there is an infant mortality rate of 41deaths per 1,000 live births. Nearly two-thirds of the population have access to safe water and safe sanitation. HIV-positive people account for less than 0.1% of the population.
Religion and beliefs
Historically, Tibetan Buddhist Lamaism has been Mongolia’s predominant religion (94%). It was suppressed during the communist regime but re-emerged after independence in 1990. Other religions include Islam (predominantly in the southwest), Shamanism and Christianity.
Food and shelter
The traditional Mongolian diet consists of many varied combinations of meat, milk and flour – for example, buuz (steamed dumplings) and khuushuur (fried pastry).
Increasing urbanisation and wealth has led to an increase in the variety and quantity of imported foods.
The traditional home is the ger, a circular tent made of a wooden frame covered with felt. It has a south-facing door and an opening in the roof to remove the smoke from the central stove. It can be assembled and dismantled in approximately two hours. Sleeping spaces are placed around the perimeter with the men’s in the west, the altar, guests and old people in the north, and women in the east. In the rapidly growing cities, housing consists of cement block buildings and multi-storey concrete apartment blocks as well as traditional ger and houses built in a circular shape.
Wealth and poverty
Although there is a low unemployment rate of 3%, over one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. There is a fairly unequal distribution of wealth with the top 10% of the population enjoying about one-quarter of the wealth while the bottom 10% share only 3% of the wealth.
Mongolia endures high inflation due to its dependence on Russia and China for fuel, power, food and machinery. Remittances from Mongolians working abroad are sizable.
Education and work
There is a high adult literacy rate of 97.8% but the transition from the Soviet to a market economy has seen government spending on education reduce from 11.2% in 1990 to 5.3% in 2002. Although there is a long tradition of boarding schools to improve access to education for rural and poorer families, only 84% of children attend primary school. Unlike many nations, boys in Mongolia account for only 40% of the enrolment in upper secondary schools and one-third at higher education levels.
Industries and products
Mongolia’s agricultural sector is dominated by livestock breeding. Cattle account for over two-thirds of all production, while sheep, goats, camels and horses are also bred.
Industries centre on construction, mining (coal, copper, molybdenum, fluorspar, tin, tungsten, and gold) and processing of animal products, food, beverages, cashmere and natural fibre manufacturing
In 2006, Mongolia exported $1.889 billion worth of copper, apparel, livestock, animal products, cashmere, wool, hides, fluorspar, other nonferrous metals to China (71.8%), Canada (11.7%) and the USA (7.3%).
It imported $2.117 billion worth of machinery and equipment, fuel, cars, food products, industrial consumer goods, chemicals, building materials, sugar and tea from Russia (29.8%), China (29.5%) and Japan (11.9%).
Achievements and challenges
Agricultural production is limited in Mongolia: storms, fires and droughts are common, and less than 1% of the land is arable. More than half the country is covered by permafrost, which makes construction, road building and mining difficult. Deforestation, overgrazing and the use of virgin land for agricultural production has increased soil erosion from wind and rain. Mining activities and rapid urbanisation has led to major air and water pollution. It is hoped that tourism and mining will lead to economic growth.
Links with Australia
Bilateral trade between Australia and Mongolia is small. It consists mostly of the temporary importation of exploration equipment by Australian companies operating in Mongolia.
Australian Overseas Development Assistance to Mongolia focuses on strengthening the capacity of government personnel in the areas of public health, environmental engineering and business development.
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