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On the road from good neighbors to good partners

The natural resources buried underground are a great asset for Mongolia. Another asset that does not come second in terms of its importance is our geographical location. We have always talked about many mega projects and plans, and made efforts for the last 10 years to become a bridge that links not only our two neighboring nations, but also two continents. However, almost every piece of work has dragged on for years. As a result, there is too little that has actually been done.
Since the presidents of Mongolia, Russia, and China have started meeting on a regular basis, there is more hope that the projects intended to turn our good neighbors into good partners would gain traction. The reports from Xinhua News Agency on the recently held trilateral summit in Ufa, Russia, suggests that Xi Jinping, President of China, called on the governments of all three countries to promptly develop cooperation projects that are aligned with the agreement on the Silk Road and development strategies. But Mongolians have started moving in different directions to replace the government once again.
Mongolia’s only solid, promising project that could help in becoming an economic corridor is the vertical road in the western region of the country. Just before Naadam, I drove on this road and crossed the border to stay in Takeshiken Port in China for one night, before coming back through Khovd and Ulgii towns.

BRAND NEW VESSEL IN THE WESTERN REGION

Mongolia has currently built two thirds of the 743 km road, Yarant-Khovd-Ulgii-Ulaan baishint, that connects the southern and northern borders. The road from Ulgii to the Russian border is already built. If a 635 km road is built, it will enable Karachi, Pakistan, and Novosibirsk, Russia, to be connected with a 6,000 km road. If the construction work for the road that will stretch 635 km is commenced, it will mean that the 4a section of the regional economic cooperation program signed in 1997 would finally be implemented. This program was initiated by 10 countries and six development banks.
It is possible to drive on a highway from Khovd to Yarant Port today, despite a total of 30 km of unpaved road in two places. The government is expected to announce who won the tender to build a 190 km road from Khovd to Ulgii this month. The important construction and development projects such as this have always dragged on for many years, without real work being done due to the frequent changes in the government, ministries, and relevant decision-making bodies.
One km of road is estimated to cost 500,000 USD on average. One third of the total budget for this road’s construction comes from the Government of Mongolia, 10 percent from aid from Asian Development Bank (ADB), 50 percent from ADB loans, and 10 percent from a long-term, low interest loan acquired from Exim Bank of China. The road will meet the requirements of Mongolia’s road standards and technical specifications. The width of lanes, shoulders, and the depth of the roadbed are 7 m, 1.5 to 2 m, and 10-11 m respectively. The road can be used at full capacity for 20 years, as it is estimated that the road will have approximately 5,000 vehicles a day traveling on it until 2032.
Seventy percent of this road, which will cross the Altai Mountains and go down along the 68 km-long Bodonch Canyons, is at an elevation of 2,000 m. The construction work has geographical restraints, such as canyons and a river. A 14 km river diversion project has been completed. A total of 12 bridges, each 30 to 120 meters long (total length: 720 m), have been built in Bodonch Canyons.
It was evident that the rules must be followed strictly, as the road has a lot of sharp turns and steep sections. The posted road signs, boards, and reflective barriers reminded me of infrastructure in developed countries.

SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE

Roads are followed by development. The completion of this road will lay the foundation to put the social and economic infrastructure in place to have international freight and passenger transportation go through Mongolia, build a strong system for customs services, and expand not only the international trade between Asian countries but also domestic trade and our market. It will bring about a positive impact on removing the isolation of western aimags from the global market, and help relieve poverty in the region. Approximately 120 locals have been working on the construction of this road every year. In 2015, 215 locals have been employed.
The companies that are implementing the project are doing some work in the local communities – Altai, Mankhan, and Must soums are located along the road. They built water wells to have more of permanent sources of drinking water, and provided training for poor and female-headed single parent families to grow vegetables in greenhouses. The companies are also organizing training on road maintenance, which will be helpful for local employment after the construction work is completed. The cultural heritage, including artifacts from the Bronze Age and tombs, discovered during the construction work has been moved and kept properly in accordance with relevant laws.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES

The implementation of this project will create the basic conditions for Mongolia’s western region to see more socio-economic development. The road will allow for reducing the maintenance cost of vehicles (various mechanical parts, tires, etc). When a light vehicle travels on this road, 190 USD will be saved compared to the time when the road was not paved. For a truck, 334 USD will be saved. The road also shortens travel time by 50 percent, and could help decrease the number of accidents.
Furthermore, herders will be able to travel to soum centers more quickly. It will become much easier for them to receive access to education, medical attention, and emergency support. In addition, the road will connect the markets of the western and central regions, which would enhance the circulation of goods exchange and increase local employment.
A specially designed stop for long distance drivers to have a rest has been constructed for the first time in Mongolia on this road. It offers local people many new business opportunities such as the opening of hotels, motels, diners, and stores. However, it is apparent that there is a lot that needs to be done to put a good system in place for international freight, passenger transportation, and customs services. The relevant organizations of Mongolia, Russia, and China might lack experience in this area.
If this road is completed and the western region is connected to the central power grid, Khovd, Bayan-Ulgii, and Uvs provinces will rapidly develop. In a hundred years’ time, Khovd soum can become a large commercial and industrial hub, not only in the region but also internationally.

Trans. by B.AMAR

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=15479

Posted by on Jul 28 2015. Filed under Opinion. 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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