Photographers' Blog

Inside Mongolia’s Ger District

Ulan Bator, Mongolia

By Carlos Barria

As the sun tucks behind the hills near the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, Baljirjantsan Otgonseren, 32, walks out of her “Ger,” a traditional Mongolian tent, looking for her daughter. The girl is watching the last sunbeams of the day stretch over the settlement known as the Ger District — a sprawling residential area that has grown so fast in ten years, it has evolved from a transient slum to a legal residential zone.

Like many other residents, Otgonseren and her family migrated from the grasslands to the capital looking for better opportunities. They left behind a traditional nomadic lifestyle in favor of city life and a shot at participating in their country’s rapid economic growth. Recent natural disasters have played a part too. For example, the 2010 “Zud,” a Mongolian term for an extremely snowy period, helped convince many to settle in one place for good.

According to a 2010 National Population Center census, roughly 30,000 to 40,000 people move to the capital every year. As a country, Mongolia is considered the world’s least densely populated nation; with 2.8 million people spread over 1.5 million square kilometers (580,000 square miles).

At the same time, Mongolia’s capital faces one of the biggest housing shortages in the region, with 60 percent of the population living in the Ger District. In many cases, residents have difficult access to water, sanitation and basic infrastructure, according to data from the World Bank.

Residents in Ulan Bator point out that Ger communities tend to grow faster during the year after a hard winter. In 2010, when a severe winter killed 4.5 million animals across the Mongolian steppes, many herders faced devastating losses. That winter about a tenth of Mongolia’s livestock died, as deep snow cut off access to grazing and fodder. The 2010 “Zud” was the worst for years, with temperatures dropping to minus 40 degrees Celsius or below (minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit) in 19 of Mongolia’s 21 provinces.

Set free in the Mongolian wild

By Petr Josek

Bulgan airport in the southwest part of Mongolia reminds me of a small train station from the spaghetti western film “Once Upon a Time in the West.” It’s slow, hot and once a week people wait for an airplane with no more then 20 passengers on board to arrive.

The day of July 17, 2012, was different.

The Czech Army plane Casa brought on board four Przewalski mares. They are endangered animals with a sandy brown coat and faintly striped legs, extinct in their homeland since the early 1970s.

Now the animals were landing on a dirt tarmac after a 6,000 km (3,728 miles) flight from the Czech Republic. It was a challenge for the pilots, required extra airport staff and was an attraction for local residents. It’s hard to say if the customs officer was taking pictures for professional reasons or just for himself as a souvenir from the unusual event.

Jugderdem’s backyard

By Carlos Barria

Two-year-old Jugderdem Myagmarsuren opens the door of his tent to play with his plastic scooter in the backyard. He is accompanied by sheep and cows. This is not an ordinary backyard. It’s the Mongolian steppe, and his closest friends might live more than two kms (1.2 miles) away.

While the world’s population reached 7 billion on October 31st, 2011, Mongolia remains the least densely populated country on the planet, with 2.7 million people spread across an area three times the size of France. Two-fifths of Mongolians live in rural areas spread over wind swept steppes.

According to the National Population Center census of 2010, Mongolia’s population density increased by only 0.2 percentage points– to 1.7 persons per square kilometer—from the last census in 2000.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in pictures

Rarely do so many big stories of global interest happen at the same time from one region but last week in Asia its been incredible.

Soldiers and aid workers struggled to reach at least a million people cut off by landslides that have complicated relief efforts after the worst floods in Pakistan in 80 years. Poor weather has grounded relief helicopters and more rain was expected to compound the misery of more than 13 million people . The floods have killed more than 1,600 people. 

PAKISTAN-FLOODS/

Marooned flood victims looking to escape grab the side bars of a hovering Army helicopter which arrived to distribute food supplies in the Muzaffargarh district of Pakistan's Punjab province August 7, 2010. Pakistanis desperate to get out of flooded villages threw themselves at helicopters on Saturday as more heavy rain was expected to intensify both suffering and anger with the government. The disaster killed more than 1,600 people and disrupted the lives of 12 million.  REUTERS/Adrees Latif