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Vastly remembered as the land of the Mongol plunderers and Genghis Khan in history, Mongolia that had been under the influence of the neighboring countries China and Russia until 1990’s is opening to the rest of the world.
By Rajendra Shende
A flight route from Frankfurt to Beijing goes exactly over Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia, where pilot would take a light southwardly turn towards the inner Mongolia to proceed later to Beijing. Early morning when I would get up, during my more than two-dozen visits to China, on the left side, 10 kms below I would gaze through window to see tiny spots of Ulaanbaatar. I could clearly see the west-east route of trans-Siberian railway and Tuul, the river around which the city is established. Sipping Indian tea offered early in the morning by the air hostess, my memories of visits to Mongolia would descend on Tuul river banks, Gandan monastery on east of the city, Zaisan hills from where one gets full panorama of the city, horse-milk markets and the nearby Bogd Khan Mountain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But what entangles in string of my memories are the stories of nomads of Mongolia, their culture and their struggle with ‘immobile modernism’ and their painful migration to the cities.
Many are also puzzled about Mongolia’s history of cruel war enraged by Genghis Khan, a hero for Mongolians, and at the same time existence of teachings of pacifist Buddhism that Mongolians embraced through scores of monasteries across Mongolia.The biographies of Genghis Khan are, however, replete with stories that depict the other side of this warrior. First of all Genghis Khan has nothing to do with ‘Khans’ as we know in Indian subcontinent. Second, Genghis Khan’s strategic focus was on unification of nomads and tribes under one empire so that it becomes fortified shield against attacking enemies in the 13th and 14th centuries. Genghis Khan was religiously tolerant and interested in learning philosophical and moral lessons from other religions. He took advice from Buddhist monks, as well as from Muslim and Christian missionaries. It is this history and legacy of secularism, fights for solidarity and respect for nature that makes tourism in Mongolia most satisfactory.
Genghis Kahn himself followed a religion called Tengrism that sees life as living in harmony with the surrounding world. Tengrists consider that their existence is sustained by the eternal blue sky (‘Tengri’ means sky) and the mother-Earth. Even modern Mongolians today pray to Blue Sky. Mongolia is also branded, albeit poetically, and referred as the “Land of Eternal Blue Sky”.
Opening to the world
In 2013, Mongolia was the country of choice by United Nations Environment Programme ( UNEP) for celebration of World Environment Day. A new Partnership for Action on the Green Economy (PAGE)-a major new initiative to assist the global transition to a green economy was announced by UNEP with Mongolia. “ For the last seven or eight years we have had great growth, from 8-15 per cent, and it is important that we build in good basics of green growth and green economy” said Mongolia’s environment and green development minister Sanjaasuren Oyun. Mongolia is developing policies on sustainable mining, renewable energy and ecotourism that will place it on a green development path.
UNEP plans to engage Mongolia on a host of other issues, including climate change. Mongolia’s 2.1 degree centigrade rise in temperature over the last 70 years has led to drier conditions and degradation of pasture-land, placing pressure on traditional nomads.
When I visited Mongolia for the first time in mid 1990s the country was going through massive transition from the central economy of USSR. It was a painful time because for the first time it was opening to outside world and other countries. Outside two giants i.e. Russia and China as neighboring countries, Mongolia did not deal with other countries for long. I always imagined that with its serene and virgin landscapes, steppe, biodiversity and loving adventurous people this country would one day progress at massive speed. Unfortunately the country lacked adequate infrastructure at that time. With hardly any electricity, hotels and transportation the tourism was at its infancy. Railway connection with Beijing was used by the Mongolians to go there and comeback with loads of Chinese goods to sell in the country. But that changed over two decades.
With policy of market economy, China, Japan and Korea initiated massive infrastructural projects that have made Mongolia one of the most desired attractions for business-tourists. Lately when I visited Mongolia, I saw the transformation in rather different way. Like Genghis Khan’s war-sorties to unify nomads and tribes, now market seems to be uniting them, in good way as well as bad.
Tourism and culture
Ulaanbaatar, where 40 per cent of the country’s population lives, is known as world’s coldest capital with temperature reaching up to minus 50 degree centigrade for several days. My visits luckily were during May to September. As a vegetarian I was awkwardly trapped in Mongolia. Meat is the staple food and horse’s meat is available almost in all shops. Marmot’s meat is considered as delicacy. In this world of ‘livestock-food-markets’ I had to curtail my intake only to milk products, raw vegetables, dried curd-balls (aarul) and cheese along with porridge made in milk. Morning-tea is what one gets in monasteries which is salted. The national drink called airag is fermented horse’s milk. My friend arranged to take me to the market outside Ulaanbaatar early one morning to get healthy and well-fermented horse’s milk.
Tourism is nearly dead during winter. It is said that during winters there are only two jobs in Mongolia, driving a taxi for rich locals and foreign businessmen and working in the mines. However, there is full potential for winter sports and winter tourism provided government initiates adequate facilities and trains the youth.
During summer a ‘three-game-festival’ called Naadam has now become tourist attraction. Recently the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in mini-Naadam to perform two of the three items- horse riding, archery and wrestling. He did not do wrestling, as humor goes, because he does it every day in India with opposition parties.
Interestingly number of agencies including United Nations started in early 1990s ‘exceptional’ programme to build schools for nomad children at some central places. Idea was to ensure education among nomads. However, these ‘western style’ modern methods met with mixed success. They were soon criticized as means to destroy the nomadic culture and learning from nature. It is till date a big debate in Mongolia if the nomads are to be settled at all!
In my later visit to Ulaanbaatar in winter, the blue sky had turned into grey due to usage of coal for heating purposes. The mining business mainly for copper and in small way for gold was on rise. The Chinese and rest of the world looks at Mongolia more for business-rides for mining the copper and gold than for horse- rides. The business tycoons seem to enjoy vodka more than airag! And they enjoy the Genghis Khan bars more than his biography.
During one of my visits, I was taking my early morning brisk walk through exploring the surroundings of the Erktet Suld Gher Camp, about 25 km outside of Ulaanbator. It was the venue for a UNEP conference organized by my office. It was a very innovative venue for UN conference, as we stayed in Mongolian ghers (round shaped rooms assembled and dissembled by nomads). Even conference was in a huge gher, a point of departure from the usual hotel conference rooms!
End of June, traversing the steppe, amidst the bare hills was a unique experience. A vast green pasture, blue sky, a slow wind blowing across the hills made it a true dream walk.
Walking along a small track, I noticed something which I had never seen before. It was a marmot (boodog in Mongolian) hurrying back to its underground hole, carrying a white piece of plastic foam in its mouth. By the time I reached the hole, the marmot was already deep inside, but the white foam was a few inches down from the opening of the hole. I spotted some more white pieces brought by the marmot, arranged like a barricade at the entrance with a small opening on the side only for marmots to go inside. I could clearly see that these were pieces of insulating packaging Styrofoam picked up by marmot from a nearby construction site. The marmot was obviously preparing for winter, almost 3 months away! Marmots are the most common rodents in Mongolia. The number of underground mammals such as rabbits and marmots is higher than the above-ground animal population like camels and horses. This particular marmot must be an intelligent one and ‘responsive’ to change as per Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest”. The insulating foam protects the marmot against harsh winter winds blowing across Mongolian pastures. Obviously, the Mongolian marmot has entered the 21st century with the full knowledge of modern markets and technological products!
As I strolled in the crispy cold morning, I wondered how the pristine ecosystem in Mongolia is changing. Maybe the Mongolian marmot has masterminded climate adaptation by finding an unusual solution to make the Mongolian winters warmer. I stopped this silly thought and took a picture of that insulated home of the marmot instead.
A clear message to me from ecosystem of Mongolia that Tengrism is disappearing, blue sky is becoming grey and that nature is adopting to modern markets and technologies. Clothing from camel’s wool, one of the most valuable products from Mongolia against its harsh winter are getting replaced by the synthetic plastics imported from China. Fermented horse milks are getting replaced by Vodka .
I recall the story of Mongolian nomad child. The child sitting on the back of the horse is being led by his father walking in the front . Child at the end of a day-long wander asks his father, “Father, have we arrived at the destination?” “No my dear”, responds the father, “we are all nomads!”
Article appeared in ‘ India Outbound’, see: http://india-outbound.com/magazine/article/182
(Rajendra Shende, IIT-Alumni and former Director UNEP, is the Chairman TERRE Policy Centre)
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8th May 2015 marked the 70th Anniversary of end of World War II. That day, in 1945, heralded a peace and stability for the Europe. Rapid economic recovery that followed through Marshall Plan provided to dilapidate Europe a generous grant of nearly 5 % of the USA’s GDP at that time. It was over and above 5 % of the aid that USA was already providing to Europe .
What followed during the years of Europe’s progress was the stark realization of the over-exploitation of the natural resources for the rapid economic recovery invoked the reflection and debate on the economy, measured by GDP, as against development, measured by Human Development Index (HDI). That is the time in 1961, when Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), set up in 1948, was reformed into Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Unfortunately, Greedy Development Process- sarcastically referred to as – GDP -continued to scale and it crafted unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. What then trailed was the advent of debate on development as measured by HDI as against sustainable development, to be measured by host of indicators including quality of life, happiness, social protection, and natural capital valuation. It was seminal debate, as evidenced by 1992 Earth Summit at Rio-de-Janeiro, focusing on the wider thought that human development should not be at the cost of human environment and the ecosystem on which human development thrives.
The realizations and reflections: 5 decades back
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), thoughtfully initiated by United Nations just before the end of the last millennium were, in reality, the manifestation of the global frustration on the more than 50 years of the efforts to shape the post-war social, economic and environmental order. Formatting MDGs and the efforts to meet those goals and targets during 15 years from year 2000 to 2015 were the consequence of the over-emphasis on financial governance with trade as hub, as evidenced by the early role played by Bretton Woods’s institutions –World Bank, IMF, IFC and number of regional financial institutes.
The historic achievement 1.5 decades back
The United Nations General Assembly, in year 2000, agreed through the Millennium Declaration on eight comprehensive and achievable goals related to reducing poverty, better gender equality, improving access to drinking water, reducing child and maternal mortality, universal primary education, combating HIV/AIDS/Malaria and other diseases and environmental sustainability. Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General at that time took facilitative role to ensure that means of implementation to achieve the goals are also part of the global agreement in adopting the MDGs. Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) and ensuring the financial assistance to the developing countries to the level of agreed target of 0.7 % of the GDP of the developed nations, were the key means of the implementation.
Considered by many as ‘ yet another utopian side-kick’ by United Nations, MDGs in reality had faired well in meeting the part of the targets making it mixed-success. Considering the global complexity, financial crisis, sectarian wars and rising population- more than 1 billion people were added over last 15 years- and the pervasive and irreversible environmental degradation, even mixed-success is encouraging. Many cynics attribute the success to the factors outside the framework of MDGs. For example, the goal of halving the share of the people globally living under USD 1.25 a day was achieved in year 2010, 5 years in advance, mainly because China and India contributed major part of that poverty reduction. In most of other countries, the target was missed.
Targets of halving the proportion of the population without improved drinking water, halting spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, gender equality in education, were achieved but with geographically unequal spread. Progress in achieving other targets is irregular and inconsistent. Environmental sustainability, in case of the Stratospheric Ozone Layer protection by eliminating Ozone Depleting Chemicals like CFCs is achieved, but it also resulted into emergence of green house gases like HFCs, as a result of substitution of CFCs.
Lessons learned in the present decade
What is important to recall that MDGs came from a historic negotiations ever and for the first time 196 countries in the world-small and big, rich and poor-shed their diversity and differences to agree collectively on the developmental agenda with the quantifiable, time-targeted goals. UN as well as its member states should be credited for design, implementation, monitoring and measuring the progress of such global targets – a feat never achieved in the human history.
There are number of lessons garnered over last 15 years in the successes and failures of MDGs. MDGs remained close-door phenomenon without mainstreaming them in national planning. Hardly any countries’ budgets, five-year plans, long term visions included the synergy with MDGs. Common man on the street was unaware that the whole world is working for 15 years to reduce his or her poverty. Many considered MDGs to be too contracted. The prominent example of the missed opportunity was absence of goals and targets related to energy, though energy is so intimately linked to the developmental process.
Other areas missed were related to dignified and productive employment, enhancing social protection, and rising productivity, dealing with the climate change and mitigating its impacts on the poor; reducing risks of global financial and commodity market crises; preventing unethical financial and trade practices; culturally, socially and environmentally deteriorating urbanization, engagement of youth, and finally, narrowing inequalities within and between countries, based on class, gender and ethnicity, among other factors.
One of the key lapses of the MDGs has been, as in the case of nearly all-multilateral environmental and social agreements under UN, a total lack of accountability for meeting goals in an equitable, transparent and participatory manner. One-can sympathies that non-existent accountability may be due to the fact that world was experimenting for the first time such goals. But lesson should not be lost that without accountability mechanisms and the methodologies to monitor the compliance, such global process of targeted action would be just shop-talks and group-travels.
The MDGs arose out of a limited consultations and mainly UN wide process. Civil society and other stakeholders like women’s group, youth representation were sideliners. As a result, the MDGs have not had the strong “ownership” and “buy-in” from civil society and even national governments. A survey of the sections of various strata of society would show that MDGs were part of the high-level diplomacy and hardly part of the down-to-earth desire for the transformation.
Doing it better: next decade
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are part of next generation development agenda, when MDGs go in retirement having reached its pre-determined terminating age of 15 years. In 2012 global conference of Rio+20 (20 years after the 19992 Earth Summit or United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development) the outcome document titled “The Future We Want”, inter alia, set out a mandate to develop a set of sustainable development goals for consideration and appropriate action by the UN General Assembly. It also provided the basis for their conceptualization. The document gave the mandate that the sustainable development goals should be coherent with and integrated into the United Nations development agenda beyond 2015, popularly known as ‘post-2015 agenda’.
World has yet another historic opportunity to face the challenges facing its people, with renewed, reinvigorated and reassessed approaches taking into consideration the lessons learnt.
There have been series of meetings since 2013, regionally and internationally that engaged the civil society and diverse groups of stakeholders including governments to formulate the goals, targets and indicators. The Open Ended Working Group in its 13 sessions that ended in July 2014 have now submitted their proposal to UN General Assembly which is expected to adopt the goals in September 2015.
There are proposed 17 SDGs with 169 targets to be met by 2030 as against 8 MDGs and 18 targets to be met by end 2015. Does this sweeping increase in number of goals and targets make the whole process bureaucratically unmanageable and administratively designed to fail? Many say that the criticism and lesson on narrow range of MDGs is taken bit too seriously. Others say that it is not just increase of numbers of goals and targets is the issue but the conceptual expansion of the issues to be addressed is necessary and important. In reality, every lobby-group has made its own pitch during last 18 months to include its own goals and targets, in anticipation of generating more activities for them and hence the money in the form of aid, grant, partnerships and even through possible market-mechanisms.
The poor countries would certainly look for the financial assistance and appropriate technical assistance. Such expectation is not out of place. It is estimated that cost of achieving SDGs would be USD 2-3 trillion per year (USD 30-45 trillion for 15 years). That equates to 4 percent of the GDP of OECD countries, less than share that USA gave of under Marshall Plan to Europe in 1945. Considering that SDGs are to be achieved by all countries rich, not-so-rich and poor OECD countries have to share even smaller amount for other countries. Such amount should be over and above 0.7 percent of GDP of rich countries agreed internationally for some decades now.
Ultimately, it is really trillion dollar question! When the existing pledges of 0.7 percent of the national GDP is not met, when Green Climate Fund under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) has not even USD10 Billion in its kitty when by this time it should have touched at least USD 50 billion, funding the implementation of SDGs looks to be not just distant possibility but purely a dream.
Time has come for the change in the world order that was witnessed at the end of WWII. OECD needs one more transformation in its name to “OECSD”-Organization for Economic Cooperation for Sustainable Development. More than that they should also recall lessons learnt from Marshal Plan in terms of transformation achieved in European countries and now make similar plans, with correction factor of sustainability in the global post-2015 development agenda. And most importantly there has to be mainstreaming of SDGs in national planning of all countries, rich and poor. SDGs are for all and not for only developing nations. END
Rajendra Shende, IIT Alumni, Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, former Director UNEP
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