ULAN BATOR, Mongolia — Today, one in three people in Mongolia are poor, and this number keeps growing as the income cap continues to widen. Poverty has become widespread in both rural areas and urban centers, with over half of the country’s poor living in the rural areas. Before 1990, Mongolia had not been facing large amounts of poverty in its country and there were basically no poor people in rural areas. Before this, the government and rural collectives always made certain that there were basic goods, supplies and access to a full range of public services for everyone.
Poverty has reached Mongolia more recently as a direct consequence of the country’s conversion to a market economy in the 1990s, which happened after Mongolia’s centrally planned economy collapsed and the Soviet Union broke up. State farms in the country and the privatization of industry brought upon very high levels of unemployment, and benefits and assistance eventually dried up. Inflation engulfed all purchasing power, incomes reduced greatly, and people started paying more and more for the education and health services.
The rural poor in Mongolia especially include members of households with over four children, families of small herders, the under-educated, the unemployed, women who head their households and vulnerable groups like the disabled, the elderly and orphaned children.
Poverty is generally more likely to affect Mongolian women than men because women are discriminated against and are often not hired and also because the men often go off to work in farms and factories so they can send money back to their families. Over 55,000 households in Mongolia were headed by women alone in 2002, which is a 250 percent increase from what it was in 1990. At least half of the households headed by women are poor and about one in four of these families have more than six children.
Most of the rural poor are herders, and although the main source of livelihood for rural people is livestock production, the amount of livestock per herder is dropping substantially. It has gone down by half from 1990 to 2000, and the number of herders greatly increased from 150,000 in 1990 to more than 420,000 in 1999, an increase of over 180 percent which has largely played into the unemployment problem in the country.
Since its separation from the communist Soviets that controlled them, the country has had six elections already because of the high levels of corruption. The former president, Nambaryn Enkhbayar, has been arrested for suspicion of corruption and has caused the “highest-level of corruption drama in Mongolia’s history,” according to the Guardian.
Mongolia’s recent discovery of massive gold, coal, copper, uranium and rare earth deposits in 2011 has opened up many doors to foreign investment and helped to rebuild the country’s economy. In only one year after the discovery, the country’s gross domestic product rose by 17.3 percent and has not shown any signs of going back down. As long as the government can keep corruption at bay, with Mongolia’s new leaders remaining equitable, transparent and fair, the country should be able to become a stable middle-class society and dramatically reduce poverty.
Sources: The Guardian, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Nomad of the Universe