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A LAND OF VAST STEPPES WITH AN EXTREME CONTINENTAL CLIMATE
The Mongolian territory, landlocked between Russia and China, is widely constituted of mountains and hilly plateaus. The country’s average altitude rises 1,580 m above sea level, with the highest summits – above 4,000 m – in the Altai range in the West.
The vast grassy steppes that characterize the country extend over more than 80% of the territory. There are many lakes and rivers in the North, but the southern half possesses a very limited hydrographic network (especially in the Gobi).
The Mongolian climate is the archetype of the extreme continental climate. Winters are long and very cold (down to -40°C), while summers are short and relatively hot (over 30°C).
Each year, the country counts 265 sunny days on average, which gives Mongolia its nickname of "country of blue sky". The Mongolian climate is considered semi-arid since annual rainfall does not exceed 215 mm on average and summer droughts are frequent in many areas.
A YOUNG DEMOCRACY WITH A NOMADIC AND POST-COMMUNIST HERITAGE
Since the beginning of our era, many nomadic empires have flourished over the Mongolian territory as well as in the rest of Central and Eastern Asia. Undoubtedly, The most famous remains the Great Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan and his descendants, which stretched in the 13th century over more than 33 million square kilometers, from the Pacific Coast to Eastern Europe.
After dominating China by establishing the Yuan dynasty in Beijing until 1368, Mongolia eventually fell under the Manchu rule of the Qing dynasty from the mid-17th century.
Independence was only to be regained in 1911 thanks to the Chinese Revolution. But in the aftermath of new armed conflicts, an authoritarian communist government was established in Mongolia in 1924, under the protection of its new Soviet ally.
It was not until the collapse of the USSR and the peaceful revolution in 1990 that today’s democratic and liberal system was finally established. To this day, Mongolia remains widely shaped by this nomadic and communist double heritage and experiences most of the problems commonly encountered by young democracies.
A SCATTERED AND RELATIVELY ISOLATED POPULATION OUTSIDE THE CAPITAL
With barely more than 3 million inhabitants scattered over its vast territory, Mongolia remains the least densely populated country in the world (2 inhabitants / km2).
Apart from the capital, which has a particular administrative status, the country is divided into 330 soums (districts). Each of these soums possesses a single village, called soum-center. Including Ulaanbaatar, the country thus counts in total only 331 towns and villages scattered homogeneously throughout its huge territory.
Today, there are still about 230,000 nomadic households, or nearly one third of the total population.
But since the late 1990s, as a result of the wild liberalization, the trend is towards urbanization.
The rural exodus is mainly directed towards Ulaanbaatar: its number of inhabitants has more than doubled in two decades, so that the city now concentrates almost half of the total population.
With the exception of the capital, the Mongolian population is therefore particularly scattered, with all the difficulties this situation entails. The low level of transport infrastructure – less than 10% of paved roads and a single railway – tends to isolate the rural families even further.
Evolution of the Mongolian population between 1990 and 2016 (million inhabitants)
A DIFFICULT ECONOMIC CONTEXT DOMINATED BY MINING AND HERDING
After decades of a planned economy, from the 1990s Mongolia has experienced a very difficult transition to a market economy, brutally liberalizing prices and privatizing a large part of its public enterprises.
From 2009 to 2013, the country finally enjoyed a strong growth thanks to the rise in the price of raw materials, but it has narrowed considerably over the past few years. Today, the economic situation remains difficult: almost 30% of the Mongolian population still lives below the poverty line, and the prevalence of undernutrition remains close to 20%.
In recent decades, mining (gold, copper, coal, etc.) has emerged as the main economic sector in the country. These natural resources now represent approximately 90 % of Mongolian exports.
Nevertheless, the agricultural sector – in particular traditional livestock herding – still accounts for an important part of the Mongolian economy and society. While agriculture as a whole accounts for about 13% of GDP, the sector still employs almost one third of the working population.