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End poverty now more than ever, Mongolia

Jim Anderson's picture

October 17 is End Poverty Day. Every day is a day to end poverty, but it helps to designate one day per year to reflect on this goal and how we can work to achieve it.

In Mongolia, poverty declined from 2010 to 2012, and again from 2012 to 2014. Since poverty rates very closely track overall economic growth, this is not surprising. Growth in labor incomes over the period helped reduce poverty, and this growth, in turn, was generated by increases in real wages in the non-agricultural sector and non-wage income in the  agricultural sector.  Mongolia’s fondness for universal social transfers also contributed: poverty rates fell from 38.8 percent in 2010 to 21.6 percent in 2014, based on the national poverty lines.

That was then, this is now.

Although the 2016 poverty level is not yet available, we can be sure that the economic downturn has not helped. Overall growth of GDP is projected to be only 0.1 percent for 2016, with production in the non-mining sector declining. And Mongolia’s pro-cyclical policies that funded social programs in the boom years now face opposite pressures. Social welfare  programs that are categorically targeted and pro-cyclically funded are more difficult to scale up when times become difficult.

With a large and unsustainable budget deficit (projected to reach 18 percent of GDP for 2016), and with growing levels of debt, Mongolia has little choice but to focus on fiscal  consolidation. Can they do so without hurting the most vulnerable people in society?

What’s in a category?

Jim Anderson's picture



One year ago, Mongolia was designated an Upper Middle Income Country (UMIC) when the country’s GNI per capita crossed the threshold between lower and upper middle income countries.  Some Mongolians celebrated, seeing the designation as a reflection of how far the country had come since recovering from a prolonged slump in the 1990s.  Others wondered what it means for the availability of concessional financing in the future.  And others just wondered if it was accurate.  While Mongolia’s progress is unmistakable, we also know that 22% of the population lives below the national poverty line of roughly $2.70 per day—what does it mean to be an “upper middle income country” in the face of such a statistic?

Last week, Mongolia was re-designated a Lower Middle Income Country (LMIC).  How is this possible and what does it mean?

2015: The 25th year of Mongolia’s partnership with the World Bank

Jim Anderson's picture
This is the final entry in our series on the 25 years since Mongolia joined the World Bank. (To read the series from the beginning, click here for the 1991 post.) Befitting the 25th year of the partnership, the year 2015 was a year focused on knowledge.

The latest estimates of poverty in Mongolia showed both progress and reason for concern. The National Statistical Office (NSO) and the World Bank have worked together on the methodology for estimating poverty since at least 2002. The estimates showed that the poverty rate declined from 27.4 percent in 2012 to 21.6 percent in 2014, continuing the trend of 2010-2012. The estimates also showed, however, that many people are near the poverty line and remain vulnerable as the economy softens. 

2014: Toward more efficient financing for healthcare, agriculture, and Ulaanbaatar city

Jim Anderson's picture
Continuing our series on the 25 years since Mongolia joined the World Bank, today we look at 2014. Growth was 7.8 percent, but inflation was in double-digits and FDI continued to fall. The World Bank’s economic updates continued to warn of persistent macroeconomic imbalances, and sector studies focused on financing.

The rapid growth rates of the previous years, combined with the bent for decentralization, led to a natural desire to explore new possibilities for subnational finance. To this end, a pair of studies in 2014 aimed at preparing a debt management approach for Ulaanbaatar and a financial self-assessment for the city. The former stressed “the need to first build local institutional capacity for an effective and transparent debt management system before any borrowing is considered. … UB should use this time to put in place a debt management system so that it is prepared for borrowing once it is ready and the macroeconomic conditions improve.” The latter study examined what it would take for Ulaanbaatar to improve its credit quality and thereby prepare for an official rating from a credit rating agency. The recommendations centered on improving the city’s financial reporting system, strengthening its capital investment planning process, improving its capital asset registry, strengthening the oversight of municipal-owned enterprises and their debts, and identifying Ulaanbaatar’s contingent liabilities, both explicit and implicit.

2013: The challenge of public finance during a mining boom

Jim Anderson's picture
Continuing our series celebrating the 25 years that Mongolia has been a member of the World Bank, today we look at 2013.  Foreign direct investment (FDI) fell below 20% of GDP, down from the heights around 50% of GDP a few years earlier. Growth, however, was still in double-digit territory and inflation was in single digits.

With the boom well underway, a report examined how to meet the challenge of scaling up infrastructure.  In a blog summarizing the study, one co-author was blunt:  “Financed by the mining boom, government spending on new infrastructure in Mongolia has increased 35-fold in the past 10 years. But you would not know this from driving the pot holed streets of Ulaanbaatar or inhaling the smog filled air of the city, particularly in the ger areas. … [The study] examines why this increased spending is not resulting in equivalent benefits for the citizens of Mongolia in terms of better roads, efficient and clean heating, and improved water and sanitation services.” The study pointed to poor project planning and implementation, and suggested ways to improve.

2012: Scaling up Mongolia

Coralie Gevers's picture
In the 25 years since Mongolia joined the World Bank, 2012 stands out for several reasons.  Starting with politics: 2012 was an electoral year that produced its fair share of surprises. The main issue at stake was for Mongolians to decide if and how they wanted to use the country's mining wealth for its development. Politicians appealed to Mongolians' love for their country, its nature, its grand history, and its fighting spirit. While Oyu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi monopolized the headlines, the issue was much deeper: what does it mean to be Mongolian in today's globalizing world?
 
For an outside observer like me—I was in my second year as the World Bank’s Country Manager for Mongolia at the time—it was fantastic to see democracy at work: the spirit of 1990 that I had read about and seen in pictures at the National Museum was still alive! The more experienced observers were puzzled: many Mongolians told me that for the first time since 1990, they were unable to forecast the outcome of those elections. A few did predict the outcome, of course: the Democratic Party won the largest share of seats and opted to form a coalition with the MPRP and the Civil Will-Green Party.
 
At the World Bank, we also had a leadership change: Mr. Jim Yong Kim, until then President of Dartmouth College and co-founder of Partners in Health, replaced Mr. Robert Zoellick at the helm of the World Bank Group in July 2012.
 

2011: Galloping

Jim Anderson's picture
In our review of the 25 years since Mongolia joined the World Bank, 2011 stands out as a year of recovery, and that is an understatement.  By the beginning of 2011 the economy had stabilized and our economists returned to a quarterly format for publication of the economic updates.  The January Economic Update noted the strengthening of the economy:  For the year as a whole, real GDP grew 17.5 percent, the fastest rate for any country in the world. And while many mineral exporters were riding the wave of high commodity prices, few matched Mongolia’s investment boom, with FDI more than quadrupling in only a few years.  A 45 second animation showing FDI and GDP for extractives exporting countries makes clear how remarkable Mongolia’s second, synchronous, wave of FDI really was.
 
FDI and GDP growth over time
FDI and GDP growth for six extractives exporting countries from 1990 to 2013 as animated by the World Bank’s Macrostats app.

2010: Continued support in the midst of snow and smoke

Badamchimeg Dondog's picture
As we continue with our stories of 25 years in 25 days, today we bring 2010 under the spotlight. My very first thought of 2010 brings me back to sunny and hot Brisbane, Australia where I studied at the time for a graduate degree. In early January that year, after completing my first year of studies, I decided to come home for a quick visit just in time for the Lunar New Year celebrations. As I stood at the Brisbane International Airport, still in a light T-shirt, I did not realize how much I was underestimating the warnings my parents had given me, repeatedly, regarding the snow and smoke situation back home. Coming from the heat and humidity down under, when I landed in UB I experienced a 60 degree Celsius temperature difference as that winter was exceptionally cold with heavy snow and sharp temperature drops (below minus 40 degrees Celsius) in most parts of the country. And the smoke made me continuously wonder if I had forgotten so quickly how bad it was though I had left for Australia only a year earlier. Many others had similar reflections, including Mr. Arshad Sayed, the World Bank Country Manager for Mongolia at the time, who blogged about the terrible dzud we experienced that winter in rural parts of the country and the air pollution situation in the nation’s capital.

2009: Responding to the global financial crisis; estimating the costs of air pollution

Jim Anderson's picture

Continuing our series celebrating the 25 years since Mongolia became a member of the World Bank, today we look at 2009.  The global financial crisis that began in the US the previous year hit Mongolia hard in late 2008 and through 2009, as commodity prices collapsed and economic growth turned negative for the first time since 1993.  The World Bank switched from a quarterly to a monthly format for its economic updates to stay abreast of the rapidly deteriorating situation—the April 2009 edition illustrated how sharply the commodities markets had reversed in only one year.
 

Helping Mongolians become savvier in managing their personal finances

Siegfried Zottel's picture
 

Did you know that low-income Mongolians are better at managing daily finances than higher income earners, although those with better incomes are more likely to make provisions for the future?

These were the findings of a comprehensive demand-side assessment on financial capability in Mongolia which the World Bank Group carried out in 2013.

These findings make sense.  Poor people – those with low and irregular incomes – devote a lot of time to thinking about how to stretch their money to put food on the table while being able to cover other daily spending needs.  They tend to have surprisingly sophisticated financial lives despite having limited income, the Portfolios of the Poor found.


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