ADB’s Work in Mongolia
Simple Solutions in Modern Times
Mongolia began revamping its economy and society in the early 1990s and ADB was an early, trusted partner in this effort. The work continues today.
At Sainshand School No. 2, in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, students once struggled with 50-year-old science books. Teachers tried to explain complicated biology—such as the placement of internal organs—using drawings on a blackboard. That has changed in recent years and the school now has large, detailed posters as well as scale models of human and animal biology.
“These exhibits make it much easier to understand our lessons,” says Tuvshinjargal, a 15-year-old ninth grader. “I really like the displays of the internal biology of animals. It’s hard to imagine these things just by reading. Now I can touch the internal organs in the exhibits and I understand what is happening inside the animals.”
The transition to a more modern classroom, which was facilitated by the ADB-supported Third Education Development Project, is just one example of the changes, both large and small, that Mongolia and ADB have undertaken together since their partnership began in 1991.
In the early 1990s, the Mongolian economy was based primarily on mining and animal husbandry, and used outdated technology to manufacture products that were not competitive internationally.
ADB helped modernize many aspects of the economy and society by investing $505 million in 29 projects in Mongolia during 1991–2001. This involved work in agriculture, education, energy, finance, health, industry, telecommunications, transport, and urban development.
Mongolia benefited from periods of rapid economic growth and began to make progress on lowering poverty levels before the country was hit by the growth-slowing Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.
The crisis and a series of exceptionally severe winters drove many Mongolians who were accustomed to a rural lifestyle into the country’s cities. Many migrants from the countryside moved into ger (traditional tent) settlement areas of the city, which are home to many of the country’s poor. These informal settlements began in the 1990s, and grew considerably in the 2000s. The population of the capital city of Ulaanbaatar alone more than doubled from about 660,000 in 1998 to almost 1.4 million by 2015. Since 2010, the city has become home to nearly half of Mongolia’s people, making Ulaanbaatar one of Asia’s most crowded cities in its most sparsely populated country. As a result, the financing and management systems for cities across the country were overwhelmed.
ADB responded to this urgent problem with a variety of initiatives, including the Integrated Development of Basic Urban Services in Provincial Towns Project. Approved in 2002, the project helped provide clean water and sanitation services to nearly 150,000 people.
In southern Mongolia, providing access to clean water is not always a simple matter. Gers, used by nomadic people, can be moved from one place to another, so piped water is not always the best option. Water kiosks turned out to be a better solution. As nomadic families come and go, access to clean, inexpensive water remains.
For Orgoo Luvsansharav, a welder living in a ger community in southern Mongolia, the water kiosk is more than just a convenience. He works in the neighboring town, away from his family for much of the time. So when he is home, he wants to spend as much time as possible with them.
“It just takes a few minutes to get enough water to last my family for the week,” he says. “I don’t have to spend half my day waiting in line.”
As Mongolia’s fast-growing economy continued to modernize in the 2000s, the government recognized the need to upgrade the country’s road system. In the early 2000s, only about 12% of the country’s roads were paved and a barely functional road network impeded economic development.
The ADB-supported Regional Road Development Project, approved in 2004, sought to help address this problem by constructing a 427-kilometer paved road between the town of Choir in Mongolia and the border with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The project sought to promote cross-border trade and improve road safety at the same time.
"There will be many challenges ahead in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and the need for both infrastructure development and affordable energy still remain as major challenges in the emerging markets. We believe as we take on these challenges, ADB will continue to play an important role and take necessary measures to support us in the most efficient and effective manner it sees fit."
By the time the project was completed, traders were moving their goods faster, more safely, and at lower cost along the road. Vehicular traffic increased and the local economy improved, which in turn helped create jobs. A similar investment through the Western Regional Roads Corridor Investment Program is connecting Ulaanbayshint on the Mongolia–Russian Federation border to Yarant on the Mongolia–PRC border. The western regional road is built under the umbrella of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program.
In the late 2000s, ADB helped Mongolia recover from a series of severe winters, called dzuds. The dzud of 2009–2010 killed about 17% of the country’s livestock, the main source of livelihood for people in rural areas. ADB helped herders by improving the delivery of social and health-care services in dzud-affected areas. In 2016, ADB approved a $2 million grant from its Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund as part of a broader emergency response to yet another severe winter. The grant is part of ADB’s long-standing commitment to help Mongolia deal with the effects of dzud and the threat of food shortage that it causes.
ADB has also worked to develop value chains for Mongolia’s livestock-based products, including cashmere, wool, leather, meat, and dairy products. This has helped Mongolian agribusiness companies create about 2,000 jobs.
Today, ADB works across a broad range of areas, including power, heating, renewable energy, water, education, health, and municipal infrastructure. There is also a renewed focus on working with the private sector and promoting environmentally friendly policies.
“There will be many challenges ahead in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and the need for both infrastructure development and affordable energy still remain as major challenges in the emerging markets,” said Bolor Bayarbaatar, former minister of finance for the Government of Mongolia. “We believe as we take on these challenges, ADB will continue to play an important role and take necessary measures to support us in the most efficient and effective manner it sees fit.”
This article was originally published in a special edition of Together We Deliver, which tells 50 stories highlighting the importance of good partnerships in Asia and the Pacific in meeting the complex development challenges of this dynamic region.