Monday, May 16, 2011

A quarter of Mongolia's population live in one shantytown

The country of Mongolia now has a shanty town that contains a quarter of the country's population. People who used to live on the countryside move to slums of Ulan Bator to find work. Many of the people who move used to herd livestock, but growing desertification of the countryside has forced them to turn to the city for a livelihood.

From the Guardian, writer Kit Gillet describes the vast slum in Mongolia.

More than 700,000 people have crowded into the area in the past two decades. Many are ex-herders and their families whose livelihoods have been destroyed by bitter winters that can last more than half the year; many more are victims of desertification caused by global warming and overgrazing; the United Nations Development Programme estimates that up to 90% of the country is now fragile dryland.

Yet with limited education, few transferable job skills and often no official documents, most end up simply waiting, getting angry with the government and reminiscing about nomadic lives past. Many take to alcohol.

"More and more people arrive every year and there are so few jobs available," said Davaasambuu after queueing for 30 minutes to collect his family's daily drinking water from one of 500 water stations that dot the slum. "Nothing has changed in my neighbourhood since the last election [in May 2009]. There have been no new jobs or improvements. One little bridge has been added in the last four years, that's it," he said.

The basic infrastructure is not in place to support such a large population, which expands by tens of thousands of people a year. Many of them still live in a ger – the traditional round felt tent they arrived with from the countryside and which gives the districts their name and also their sense of impermanence.

Davaasambuu's is not an easy life. The area around his home is falling into disrepair with rubbish piling high. Nightly fights between drunks are getting worse. But at least he can take comfort in the fact that he now has a job with which to support his family, unlike many of his neighbours.

"Not everyone in the ger district is dirt poor – some are doing OK – but it is a hard life," said Troy Tvrdik, whose educational and vocational training NGO, Flourishing Future, is based in the district. "Even when it is minus 40, you still have to go out to get water."

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