Potemkin villages

In 1787, the Russian Empress Catherine II embarked on a long journey from Saint Petersburg to see the city of Novorossiysk in the Crimean Peninsula, which had been taken over from the Ottoman Empire. The empress was accompanied by her court and foreign ambassadors who wanted to see life in the Russian countryside.
In order to impress the traveling group and hide the true reality of poverty and underdevelopment, Prince Potemkin came up with an unorthodox idea. He had frames of windmills placed on the horizon and set up villages close to the road. Potemkin also gathered good-looking peasants and ordered them to pretend to prepare hay, conduct trade, and have celebrations. All these acts were performed at all stops. As a result, the Empress’ group was thoroughly impressed. That is why the Russians now use the phrase “Potemkin village” to describe any action that deceives others into believing a situation is better than it really is.
The phrase can also be applied to many things happening in Mongolia. We are currently too focused on our external appearance without being able to truly understand or pay attention to internal reasoning. Those who are looking for political gain have used this situation to their advantage, and are pushing harder to deceive others.
For instance, tens of thousands of people spent a whole day in a stadium looking for Chinggis Khaan this summer. Chinggis Khaan turned out to be a member of parliament, who is staying silent, waiting for the right moment to be “acknowledged”. After the National Naadam Festival, two Danshig Naadam Festivals were organized. The one that was held in Uvurkhangai Province was funded with 500 million MNT from the state budget and 100 million MNT from the local budget. The Danshig Naadam in Ulaanbaatar was supported with funding of 600 million MNT from the budget for the city. There is nothing wrong with marking a historical anniversary and attracting tourists. However, it would be more appropriate if it was carried out by tour operator associations, companies, and businesses.
It is time to think and question whether or not these events are a top priority when funding is about to be drawn down from the state and local budgets. For example, one of the issues that must be urgently resolved is the availability of water and sanitation facilities. Installing a water fountain on a bridge in Ulaanbaatar and improving sanitation facilities in ger districts are two fundamentally different issues that indicate different priorities.
The WHO and UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Programme report tells us where we are in water supply and sanitation compared to our neighboring countries and other Asian nations.
The gap between rural and urban lifestyles is growing bigger and bigger. Sixty seven percent of the urban population and only 43 percent of the rural population have access to improved sanitation facilities. In other words, one third of our urban population uses pit latrines. It is a disappointing number, especially when you realize that it has decreased by only three percent in the last 15 years. In these statistics we are doing far worse than North Korea.
In Mongolia almost all high income earners (99.8 percent) and 42 percent of the poor (who make up 20 percent of the total population) have access to improved drinking water sources. This lack of access to drinking water is causing the greatest challenge in eradicating the spread of infectious diseases and improving hygiene.
Although Mongolia’s infant mortality rate is going down, 21 in 1,000 infants are dying before they turn one; 80 percent before becoming one month old. A study done at the state maternity center this year says that 50 percent of infant mortalities are caused by respiratory infections and 20 percent are linked to the lack of clean water and sanitation facilities.
When half of Ulaanbaatar’s population does not have access to a shower and uses a pit latrine outside their home, it does not make sense to expect high culture from every ger district resident.
Isn’t it the time to start assessing the performance of the managers of the city, districts, and micro-districts by the number of people who have access to improved sanitation facilities (including ventilated and improved pit latrines) and by the number of public bathhouses and showers per 100 people in the areas they are responsible for?
According to a 2013 inspection jointly carried out by several organizations at the city and district level, six districts in Ulaanbaatar had a total of 124 public bathhouses, 34 of which were out of use or were not being maintained. Out of 93 bathhouses that were inspected, 38 met more than 85 percent of standards and requirements, while 55 failed to meet the same standards. There are approximately 100 bathhouses that can be used by 700,000 ger district residents. This means that there is only one bathhouse for every 7,000 people. Doesn’t this ring alarm bells concerning sanitation and hygiene? This is the most immediate top priority job for the city and district management offices.
Isn’t it time to do something about the open toilets that are emerging along the banks of the Tuul River as people go and spend their leisure time there? Will we be able to receive thousands of foreign tourists without resolving the sanitation and hygiene issues that are most fundamental? Being civilized and clean really boosts the development of the tourism industry. Dear managers and governors of the capital and provinces, a public facility does not have to be luxurious, it just needs to be clean, functioning, and available. If we have such public facilities, we will not see dark corners being used as toilets.
Let us stop building Potemkin villages.

Trans. by B.AMAR

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=15899

Posted by on Aug 23 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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