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Counting the uncounted – How the Mongolian nomadic survey is leaving no one behind

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In Mongolia, 28.4% of the total population live in poverty.[1] The higher incidence of poverty (31%) was found in the rural areas, where nearly three in five poor are herders. In total, around one quarter of households live nomadic life in Mongolia. In the north, herders move with the seasons to look for fresh pastures near wells, rivers or swamps for the spring and summer and move up to the mountains for the fall and winter. In the south where water is scarce, they must move more frequently.


The seasonally mobile nomadic lifestyle poses challenges for data collection, as herders are not easily captured by the traditional dwelling-based sampling framework used under the conventional household survey (Household Socio-Economic Survey). In addition, recent effects from climate change affected seasonal migration patterns of pastoral households and brought a new challenge of chasing their mobile life.

The Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB) is working to fill this gap. The Nomadic Household Pilot Survey was carried out in November 2019 with the TFSCB’s financial and technical support using an innovative sampling approach (RGCS: Random Geographic Cluster Sampling). Unlike conventional household surveys that randomly select households from existing lists of households or addresses, this pilot survey is based on randomly selecting GPS locations, drawing circles of certain radiuses around these locations, and interviewing all the households living permanently or temporarily within these areas. The main advantage of this RGCS design is to survey all households within the selected circles, including those who do not have permanent address or dwelling like these nomadic herders. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) sources, such as distance to water or town, land cover and population density, three discrete and mutually exclusive strata were developed for the pilot survey. The first stratum was based on the distance (9km) from the main water sources (wells or lakes) of the areas where the nomadic communities are more likely to be found. The second stratum consisted of urban areas and the rest of the areas made up the third stratum.

A total of 126 points were randomly selected from these three strata, and all eligible households found within a certain radius distance from each geographic point (2.1km radius for Stratum 1, 200m for Stratum 2 and 4km for Stratum 3, respectively) were selected for the survey.  The enumerators visited the selected circles with the help of local guides and GPS devices and interviewed all households within the circle. The pilot survey was carried out in four southern soums (districts) in Bulgan province (Gurvanbulag, Mogod, Saikhan and Bayan-Agt), and successfully collected data from 483 households. The data included household composition, health and disability status, education levels, livestock, migration and shock coping strategies. This pilot survey also introduced Survey Solutions, a computer assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) software to improve the efficiency and quality of data collection and administered hands-on training for the Survey Solutions and GIS software (QGIS) to the survey team and other ministries and agencies.

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The data from the pilot survey is currently being analyzed and a report is prepared for dissemination. The findings from this survey will provide important statistical insights about the lives of the nomadic herders that was not previously available in Mongolia, broadening the scope of what life is like in the country and ensuring that everyone is properly accounted for. In addition, the innovative approaches and lessons learned from this pilot survey will be a useful resource and public good for other countries that are similarly struggling with the data collection of nomadic populations.


The survey also presents the potential to conduct a follow-up mobile phone survey to monitor longer term information like seasonality of livestock and corresponding nomadic migration patterns. This mobile phone survey has currently been delayed due to COVID-19-related complications, but we are hopeful to utilize this mobile phone survey to collect timely data and evidence to help monitor and mitigate the household-level impact of COVID-19 over the next few months.  Additionally, this survey intends to interview randomly selected households across the nation  beyond those initially interviewed by the pilot survey described in this blog, with the aim of collecting more comprehensive, country-wide information concerning the welfare and social impacts of COVID-19.

TFSCB continues to provide tailored and timely support to make sure everyone is counted in and leave no one behind in data and statistics. Together, we can realize inclusive and sustainable development by 2030 and beyond.

The Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building III (TFSCB-III) is supported by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, the Government of Korea, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland.


[1] Household Socio-Economic Survey (HSES), 2018


Masako Hiraga

Senior Statistician/Economist, Development Data Group, World Bank

Ikuko Uochi

Senior Economist, World Bank

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