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Location Northern Asia, between China and Russia

Geographic coordinates 46 00 N, 105 00 E

Map references Asia

Area total:1.565 million sq km
land:1.565 million sq km
water:0 sq km

Area - comparative slightly smaller than Alaska

Land boundaries total:8,114 km
border countries:China 4,673 km, Russia 3,441 km

Coastline 0 km (landlocked)

Climate desert; continental (large daily and seasonal temperature ranges)

Terrain vast semidesert and desert plains; mountains in west and southwest; Gobi Desert in southeast

Elevation extremes lowest point:Hoh Nuur 518 m
highest point:Tavan Bogd Uul 4,374 m

Natural resources oil, coal, copper, molybdenum, tungsten, phosphates, tin, nickel, zinc, wolfram, fluorspar, gold

Land use arable land:1%
permanent crops:0%
permanent pastures:80%
forests and woodland:9%
other:10% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land 800 sq km (1993 est.)

Natural hazards dust storms can occur in the spring; grassland fires

Environment - current issues limited natural fresh water resources; policies of the former communist regime promoting rapid urbanization and industrial growth have raised concerns about their negative effects on the environment; the burning of soft coal in power plants and the lack of enforcement of environmental laws have severely polluted the air in Ulaanbaatar; deforestation, overgrazing, the converting of virgin land to agricultural production have increased soil erosion from wind and rain; desertification and mining activities have also had a deleterious effect on the environment

Environment - international agreements
party to:Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified:none of the selected agreements

Geography - note landlocked; strategic location between China and Russia


The terrain is one of mountains and rolling plateaus, with a high degree of relief. Overall, the land slopes from the high Altai Mountains of the west and the north to plains and depressions in the east and the south. Hutyen Orgil (sometimes called Nayramadlin Orgil--Mount Friendship) in extreme western Mongolia, where the Mongolian, the Soviet, and the Chinese borders meet, is the highest point (4,374 meters). The lowest is 560 meters, an otherwise undistinguished spot in the eastern Mongolian plain. The country has an average elevation of 1,580 meters. The landscape includes one of Asia's largest freshwater lakes (Hovsgol Nuur), many salt lakes, marshes, sand dunes, rolling grasslands, alpine forests, and permanent montane glaciers. Northern and western Mongolia are seismically active zones, with frequent earthquakes and many hot springs and extinct volcanoes.

Mongolia has three major mountain ranges. The highest is the Altai Mountains, which stretch across the western and the southwestern regions of the country on a northwest-to-southeast axis. The Hangayn Nuruu, mountains also trending northwest to southeast, occupy much of central and north-central Mongolia. These are older, lower, and more eroded mountains, with many forests and alpine pastures. The Hentiyn Nuruu, mountains near the Soviet border to the northeast of Ulaanbaatar, are lower still. Much of eastern Mongolia is occupied by a plain, and the lowest area is a southwest-to-northeast trending depression that reaches from the Gobi region in the south to the eastern frontier. The rivers drain in three directions: north to the Arctic Ocean, east to the Pacific, or south to the deserts and the depressions of Inner Asia. Rivers are most extensively developed in the north, and the country's major river system is that of the Selenge-Moron, which drains into Lake Baykal. Some minor tributaries of Siberia's Yenisey River also rise in the mountains of northwestern Mongolia. Rivers in northeastern Mongolia drain into the Pacific through the Argun and Amur (Heilong Jiang) rivers, while the few streams of southern and southwestern Mongolia do not reach the sea but run into salt lakes or deserts.


Mongolia is high, cold, and dry. It has an extreme continental climate with long, cold winters and short summers, during which most precipitation falls. The country averages 257 cloudless days a year, and it is usually at the center of a region of high atmospheric pressure. Precipitation is highest in the north, which averages 20 to 35 centimeters per year, and lowest in the south, which receives 10 to 20 centimeters. The extreme south is the Gobi, some regions of which receive no precipitation at all in most years. The name Gobi is a Mongol meaning desert, depression, salt marsh, or steppe, but which usually refers to a category of arid rangeland with insufficient vegetation to support marmots but with enough to support camels. Mongols distinguish gobi from desert proper, although the distinction is not always apparent to outsiders unfamiliar with the Mongolian landscape. Gobi rangelands are fragile and are easily destroyed by overgrazing, which results in expansion of the true desert, a stony waste where not even Bactrian camels can survive.

Average temperatures over most of the country are below freezing from November through March and are about freezing in April and October. January and February averages of -20 C are common, with winter nights of -40 C occurring most years. Summer extremes reach as high as 38 C in the southern Gobi region and 33 C in Ulaanbaatar. More than half the country is covered by permafrost, which makes construction, road building, and mining difficult. All rivers and freshwater lakes freeze over in the winter, and smaller streams commonly freeze to the bottom. Ulaanbaatar lies at 1,351 meters above sea level in the valley of the Tuul Gol, a river. Located in the relatively well-watered north, it receives an annual average of 31 centimeters of precipitation, almost all of which falls in July and in August. Ulaanbaatar has an average annual temperature of -2.9C and a frost-free period extending on the average from mid-June to late August.

Mongolia's weather is characterized by extreme variability and short-term unpredictability in the summer, and the multiyear averages conceal wide variations in precipitation, dates of frosts, and occurrences of blizzards and spring dust storms. Such weather poses severe challenges to human and livestock survival. Official statistics list less than 1 percent of the country as arable, 8 to 10 percent as forest, and the rest as pasture or desert. Grain, mostly wheat, is grown in the valleys of the Selenge river system in the north, but yields fluctuate widely and unpredictably as a result of the amount and the timing of rain and the dates of killing frosts. Although winters are generally cold and clear, there are occasional blizzards that do not deposit much snow but cover the grasses with enough snow and ice to make grazing impossible, killing off tens of thousands of sheep or cattle. Such losses of livestock, which are an inevitable and, in a sense, normal consequence of the climate, have made it difficult for planned increases in livestock numbers to be achieved.



In 1918, when the population was 648,100 and the density was 0.41 person per sq km, Mongolia faced a precarious future. The population has increased to about 2.3 million, but this still only represents 1.4 persons per sq km.
Inspired by classic Mongolian nationalism, the government actively promoted population growth, which now stands at 2.58% annually the highest in North-East Asia and one of the highest in the world. Until recently, Mongolians were offered all sorts of incentives and subsidies to reproduce. Women who produced five children were awarded the Order of Glorious Motherhood Second Class, and those with eight got the Order of Glorious Motherhood First Class. Couples with many children received cash awards, whereas those who remained childless were penalized with higher taxes. The distribution of contraceptives and abortion were made illegal.

The pastoral economy could not sustain a large population increase without greater competition for grazing land and damage to the environment. Some of Mongolias rapidly growing workforce was exported to Siberia, where labourers were badly needed, but the majority wound up in the cities. The government actively encouraged migration to urban areas in the belief that this would increase industrialization and productivity. However, these days, there is a severe labour shortage in agriculture. (Half the population still lives in a handful of urban centers.)
In the early 1990s, the government was unable to meet the needs or urban Mongolians, and many returned to relatives in the countryside. Nutrition dropped to bare survival level, even for soldiers, and child deaths rose sharply.
Families are now being encouraged to take up farming again. The punitive taxes for remaining childless have been removed, and there are no longer any prizes for prolific reproduction. The international aid agencies promote family planning, but Mongolians, aware of how outnumbered they are on all sides, are reluctant to curb family size. Couples can now have as many of as few children as they wish. The only means of birth control available to some Mongolians today (but very rarely in the countryside) are condoms and abortion, both of which were prohibited under communism.



More Mongolians live outside of Mongolia than in it about 3.5 million in China and nearly a million in Russia. Even along the Caspian Sea, thousands of kilometers from Mongolia, there are descendants of Mongolian armies. Those armies impressed Europe with Mongol unity, but throughout history nomads have usually preferred to go their own way, scattered across a huge land, with their primary loyalty being to their tribe.

The great majority (about 86%) of Mongolians are Khalkh Mongols. The other major ethnic group, the Kazaks, make up about 6% (130,000) of the population. Most Kazaks live in western Mongolia, mainly in Bayan-Olgii aimag, but their numbers are decreasing as more and more return to Kazakstan.

Barga. Originally from the Lake Baikal region of Siberia, they number about 2000 and live in remote pockets of Dornod and Tov.

Bayad. Once a powerful race; about 40,000 live in Uvs.

Buryat. Also found in Siberia, they number about 47,500 and congregate in the northern provinces of Bulgan, Dornod,
Khentii and Selenge.

Dariganga. About 32,300 live in southern Sukhbaatar.

Darkhad. Descended from the Turks; there are about 15,000 in Khovsgol.

Khoton. Of Turkish descent; about 6000 live in Uvs.

Myangad. Also of Turkish descent; about 5000 live in Khovd.

Oold. About 11,400 live in Khovd and Arkhangai.

Torguud. About 10,500 live in Khovd.

Tsaatan. Also known as the reindeer people, they are perhaps the smallest ethnic group; only about 200 live in northern Khovsgol.

Uriankhai. About 21,000 live in the Mongol Altai Nuruu mountains in Khovd and Bayan-Olgii.

Uzemchin. Only about 2000 live in Dornod and Sukhbaatar.

Zakhchin. About 24,700 live in Khovd.
Before 1990, Russians constituted about 1.5% of Mongolias population. Very few remain, as the rouble has sunk even faster than the tugrik, and trade has withered. Except for some Mongolians whod been educated in the USSR at Soviet expense, most Mongolians resented the Russians colonial arrogance. Mongolian drunks have beaten and stoned Russians in the streets.


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