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UN resident coordinator: Mongolia needs to consider its vulnerabilities in order to realize its potential

By B.KHASH-ERDENE

United Nations resident coordinator to Mongolia Sezin Sinanoglu gave an exclusive interview to the UB Post at the end of her five-year mission in Mongolia.

Sinanoglu was recently awarded the Order of Nairamdal (Friendship) by President of Mongolia Ts.Elbegdorj for her contribution to Mongolia’s development and cooperation with the UN.

We spoke in length about development issues in Mongolia and what the country needs to ensure the efficient utilization of resources.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

You will be leaving after five years in Mongolia as UN resident coordinator and UNDP permanent representative. What are Mongolia’s development challenges, how are they progressing and what are your impressions of them? 

I’m leaving after five beautiful years in Mongolia. I’ve enjoyed my five years tremendously, I’ve enjoyed the people and the nature, and it’s tough to leave.

With regard to your question, I believe that there are two things that we can say about Mongolia. One of them is that Mongolia is a real democracy. It’s pretty mature already. There are still things that people are working on and the country is working on, and there are elements that need to mature over time. But when you see Mongolia, you really see democracy in action. The Mongolian people should be proud of that.

It was not easy to make that decision and it’s not easy to maintain it, but they are doing a great job. They’re not just promoting democratic values inside, but also outside. They have been very proactive in this regard. The UN truly appreciates this.

Democratic values always come with peace. Mongolia’s stand towards peace and its stand against nuclear weapons is amazing. The UN truly values this investment towards peace and democracy.

On the other side, Mongolia is a country that is growing, the market economy is settling, and the economy itself is bubbling with potential. But with many countries that are resource rich, there is just too much money too soon, before all the democratic institutions and all the necessary institutions that make the market economy work have settled down. 

What are the main challenges? 

There are challenges in many respects.  It’s difficult to deal with such high revenue. How do you proportion it? How do you invest it? What brings the most benefits? And how do ensure that when you sign agreements, you do it in the best interest of the country? These are all technical concerns.

Also, how do you make sure that while you are growing, you don’t lose your values, your tradition, and your heritage? That’s another issue, and all of these things are pretty normal. And as such, I believe that Mongolia is going through another transition. I have no doubt that it will come out of that transition stronger, but there are going to be bumps on the road and we see those bumps already.

Right now, what we see with the economy and the challenges are obvious. But the part I would like to emphasize is, moving forward, Mongolia’s consideration should be that the country is vulnerable. It’s vulnerable because it’s a landlocked country, it’s very dependent on other economies, and it’s resource prices are very dependent on the global economy. So it’s very vulnerable to financial shocks, to relationships, and in addition, it’s vulnerable to disasters. In that respect, it is very vulnerable.

Of all the countries in the world, Mongolia is among the most vulnerable to climate change. So Mongolia needs to understand how vulnerable it is and assess the risks, and before it makes decisions, it needs to take these into consideration. That’s an important element.

The second one is that you already have a lot of weaknesses, and one of them is poverty. The country is growing but poverty, as it stands today, is at 27 percent of the population. One quarter of the nation is living in poverty. That doesn’t mean that other people are not vulnerable to falling into poverty. God forbid it, but if there is a dzud, the number could easily go up. It’s important that the country understand these vulnerabilities.

Poverty is not solved overnight. It’s not an issue that can be solved with cash handouts, not an issue that can be solved only by generating jobs. It’s a multidimensional issue. You need to understand and research it. You need to talk about it. In Mongolia, not enough people talk about poverty. Let’s have a good national discussion on poverty and how we can eliminate it.

Additionally, you will all agree that there are big disparities in the country. Rural and urban life has big disparities. You go to a soum and there is no water and no sanitation. People are vulnerable to diseases among many other things.

The country also, today I think, has major issues with inequality. This is a challenge that the country needs take on board today to prevent that inequality from happening. And today we can already see it happening.

You see a person living in the ger district, who buys water from a kiosk, puts it into a cart and carries it to their ger, is actually paying more money for that water than me, when I’m living in Zaisan in the regular housing stock. That is inequality.

So there are inequalities that are obvious and there are inequalities that you don’t even notice. Right now, in some ways, the rich are being subsidized. These need to be managed better, in favor of vulnerable and poor people.

Although Mongolia fares better compared to the world in terms of gender equality, there is inequality. Half the population are women and they are highly educated, but you don’t see that reflected in Parliament. Why? Those people have all the capacities, they meet the qualifications and they have the energy, but they have not been able to find the outlets. That’s a type of inequality.

We need stronger commitment and attention, and definitely the support to get more women out there.

Of course there are other vulnerable groups such as migrants, the LGBT community, and the disabled community. I think the country truly needs to invest in understanding their special needs and make programs to reduce these vulnerabilities.

Now what happens if you don’t do it? What happens is inequality increases, creates tensions in society and your gains are reversed.

You’re only as rich as your neighbors are. It’s not enough to be rich yourself, you’re only as rich as your environment is. With degraded land, air, and water, nobody is rich.

Unless these are dealt with, the country faces major challenges in the future. 

What does the UN recommend on these issues?

We say that first and foremost, you need to have a dialogue to understand these issues. You need to research them and have policies that are longer term that don’t just look at short term gains and short term pet projects. You need to see the future and plan around that. You need to see risks, and you need to know what results you want to achieve so you can measure your progress.

Mongolia understands the global goal very well and it’s a signatory to many conventions. Mongolia’s long-term goals need to be based around these, because these standards are globally understood and universally accepted. And one of them is the Sustainable Development Goals, which is being discussed right now to replace the Millennium Development Goals.

We really hope that Mongolia can take those and make it its own.

My second point pertains to green growth. Climate change is a known problem for Mongolia. It is already two to three degrees higher than average. This could go on even higher. This could affect rain patterns, desertification and even the health of your animals, which is a significant livelihood for many in Mongolia.

Mongolia needs to understand and invest in, and be much more committed to low carbon emission, but also ensure productive ecosystems. Whether it is through protected areas or special mechanisms. And I am very happy that Mongolia is committed and they have a green development strategy, but it has to be implemented and everybody needs to abide by it. It needs to become the foundation of Mongolia’s long term vision for Mongolia to succeed. 

How can economic growth and development better reach the people of Mongolia? In regards to economic growth, there has been a lot of criticism that growth has only reached a few sectors such as mining and construction.

 Mining itself isn’t bad, construction itself isn’t bad. What Mongolia needs to focus on is inclusive growth and diversification of the economy. One sector that they have to look at is agriculture. Agriculture is a major sector in Mongolia with lots of potential, but it needs to be sustainable and productive. There are over 50 million livestock in Mongolia. This is not sustainable. These livestock are degrading the environment, but Mongolia is not able to profit from them. Mongolia isn’t able to export their wool or meat abroad. So the country needs to find a way to make the sector efficient.

There are plenty of these sectors Mongolia could look into, such as agriculture and tourism, besides mining. Everybody wants to come to Mongolia to see its lands and beauty. Tourism in Mongolia has great potential. 

Where do you see Mongolia’s growth in the future?

What I think doesn’t matter. It’s all up to the people of Mongolia.

Mongolia has all the necessary tools for success. You have the young people, mineral resources, land resources, vast land, democratic values, and the regional market. It’s all up to the people of Mongolia. If all these resources are managed prudently and invested in with a long-term plan that focuses on human development, I have no doubt that Mongolia will be successful.

 

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Posted by on Jun 25 2015. Filed under Prime Interview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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