By Elaine Conkievich, UNDP Resident Representative in Mongolia
Calling upon Mongolia to make choices now to reduce inequalities and leave no one behind on the path to 2030
This year the United Nations Development Programme focuses its Human Development Report on Inequalities, a pertinent issue for Mongolia. Measuring beyond monetary values, exploring the power dimensions of societies where if power rests in the hands of few and the powerless are many, avenues to demand collective change may be hindered. The report, “Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: Inequalities in human development in the 21st century”, explores entrenched societal interest and social and political norms embedded deep in history and culture, including and importantly gender inequality, that perpetuates and drives inequalities. Going beyond the past and today, the report also looks at a new and emerging generation of inequalities such as the impact of climate change that may create further divisions and fractures in society.
The people of Mongolia have for centuries, found ingenious ways to nurture their exacting environment, creating opportunities that have helped to expand freedoms and choices. Innovative solutions have been adopted achieving many sustainable human development pathways. This has resulted in a country that proudly came into the new millennia as a high development country with a fast-growing economy. Despite set backs in the past few years, the country has over the last decade, made remarkable gains on key human development indices, including life expectancy at birth, expected years of schooling, mean years of schooling, GNI per capita etc., giving the country a Human Development Index of 0.735. Mongolia is to be applauded for its ambitious plans under the Sustainable Development Vision 2030, to gain on this momentum, setting the target to achieve a human development index of 0.9 by the year 2030.
But the picture is not all rosy, as when adjusted for inequalities, the human development index drastically drops to 0.63, a 13.6 percent loss. As inequality increases in countries, loss in human development also increases. This includes a loss of 13.1 percent in life expectancy at birth, 11.9 percent in education, and 15.7 in income inequality. These figures give a glimpse to the differential experiences of human development for those that are marginalized in Mongolia. If per capita ecological footprints are used to adjust the HDI, the index will further decrease, as Mongolia’s footprint is higher than the global average.
Exploring the gendered dimensions of the indices provides further insights into the inequalities faced by women in Mongolia compared to men. While mean years of schooling is higher in Mongolia for women, and more women than men complete secondary education, income earned by women is considerably less, with fewer women than men in the labour force. Significant differences are felt in leadership positions with only 17 percent of women in parliament. A recent study by UNFPA notes as high as 60 percent of women in the country face intimate partner violence; an alarmingly high number.
Unsustainable internal migration patterns due to economic, environmental, and social factors also create new and evolving inequalities. Half of country’s population currently resides in the capital, where during winter air pollution levels rise as high as 3,320 μg/m³, exceeding the WHO safe limit by 133 times. The impact has been significant especially to the poorer households. In 2018, mortality attributed to indoor/outdoor air pollution was as high as 155.9 deaths/100,000 people, placing Mongolia among the most severely impacted countries.
Mongolia continues to struggle with the accelerating impacts of climate change. A warming trend in Mongolia over the last 75 years shows an increase in average annual (2019) air temperature by 2.24°C. Th frequency of slow and rapid onset natural disasters, such as harsh winters (dzud), droughts, rain and snowstorms, flash floods and extended hot waves, have increased. In fact, the number of weather hazards has increased two-fold in the last 10 years. Impact to poorer, especially the resource dependent rural communities, as a result has been severe. Unless the impact from climate change is properly addressed, this may serve as a driver for further inequalities and disparities.
As the UNDP Administrator in his Foreword to the report notes “What happens next comes down to choice. Just as inequality begins at birth, defines the freedom and opportunities of children, adults and elders, and permeates those of the next generation, so, too, policies to prevent inequalities can follow the lifecycle.”
What happens next here in Mongolia, is for Mongolians to decide. We are confident that you will, as you have before, make responsible choices. Choices that need to be made now, but that will permeate generations; choices which will benefit every woman, every man, every girl and every boy, leaving no one behind, on the journey to 2030 and beyond. We at UNDP remain committed to support you on your human development journey.
 Mongolia’s Third National Communication to UNFCCC, 2018