Insights and Analysis

World Water Day: Access to Clean Water for Mongolia’s Northernmost Province

March 16, 2016

By Bolormaa Purevjav

Traveling in Mongolia during the winter can prove challenging, and our journey last month was no exception. Our team was traveling to the northernmost Khuvsgul province, 700 kilometers from the capital of Ulaanbaatar, to visit communities with which we have been working to improve water quality and access in the area. Like most remote provinces in the country, these residents face severe challenges in accessing clean water on a daily basis. We were surrounded by snowcapped hills and frozen landscapes, the inevitable result of sub-zero temperatures.

Mongolia's harsh winters make access to fresh water even more difficult for rural residents.

Mongolia’s harsh winters make access to fresh water even more difficult for rural residents.

Given the lack of access to drinking water in schools and dormitories in rural Mongolia, students generally do not drink water during the school day. Only a small cup of tea once or twice a day is provided, and water for hand washing is scarce. Water sources are located far from schools, and available water is transported from lakes and rivers by jeep or horse cart. In the winter, these water sources are frozen, which makes access even more challenging. Wells are available in some areas even during the winter, but that water needs to be treated as it is not suitable for drinking and can risk heavy metal contamination.

Our team was comprised of two program staff from The Asia Foundation and a water and sanitation technology expert, Dr. Basandorj, from the Water Centre at the National University of Science and Technology of Mongolia. This trip was one of many for us. For the past two years, with support from UNICEF, we have been working with soum (district) governors, schools, and kindergarten management teams, children, teachers, and social workers to provide water filters, training, and guidance to local schools and kindergartens on water and sanitation.

Already seeing results from the awareness-raising aspects of the project, the local soum governors have begun allocating portions of their local development funds as well as investing their own time and resources to ensure that children have access to clean drinking water.

Here, Governor Munkhuu explains his commitment to improve his community’s water supply and sanitation facilities.

Here, Governor Munkhuu explains his commitment to improve his community’s water supply and sanitation facilities.

Governor Munkhuu has allocated 100 million tugrug ($50,000) to improve his community’s water supply and sanitation facilities for the schools and kindergartens. “The team provides me with important technical advice on improved sanitation technology and the nano-water filters. I see these as very useful and plan to put these into use in my community for schools, dormitories, and kindergartens as well as public hospitals and the governors’ office,” he told us.

School directors, doctors, and social workers have also been enthusiastic about the initiative. One school doctor, Ms. Oyun-Erdene, said that as a result of the project’s awareness-raising on how clean water is essential to children’s health and learning capacity, her local government has allocated 3.8 million tugrug ($1,900) for her school to procure bottled water dispensers for each classroom.

One school manager, Ms. Myagmardulam, recognized the value of training guidance for teaching students about proper hygiene and water usage habits. She noted that this is something that is not traditionally part of the teaching curriculum or culture in rural Mongolia.

In addition to these efforts, our local government partners have launched a series of mini- campaigns to share vital information on the inadequate state of water supply and sanitation in schools and kindergartens, with the objective of increasing urgency for taking immediate action.

Traditionally parents and public officials in Mongolia are more concerned with issues related to the school curriculum and overcrowding. The need for improved water and sanitation, in contrast, has rarely been discussed. Through these awareness-raising campaigns, parents have become some of the strongest advocates for improving water sanitation and hygiene in schools.

Children can now use reusable cups to access clean drinking water in their classrooms.

Children now use reusable bottles to access clean drinking water in their classrooms.

Mrs. Mijiddorj, a principal for kindergarten No 11, shared with us how the parents’ council quickly acted and brought BPA free bottles from Ulaanbaatar for the children. Members of the parents’ council were trained on how to apply a monitoring check-list for the minimum water requirements in schools, kindergarten, and dormitories, and monitoring results are used to improve the WASH minimum requirements.

Principal Mijiddorj shows us the reusable BPA-free bottles that are now available to students at her school.

Principal Mijiddorj shows us the reusable BPA-free bottles that are now available to students at her school.

The head of the Education Department in Khuvsgul, Mr. O. Baatar-Ochir, said that the campaigns have greatly increased the overall understanding of water supply and sanitation issues across the province among local governments, businesses, and parents. While the momentum has been positive, he noted that more is needed to ensure the health and hygiene for the children of Khuvsgul, particularly in regard to building affordable, easy-to-maintain water and sanitation facilities that are operational throughout the long, cold winters. The project’s introduction of water filters has been promising in that they are cost-effective, easy-to-use, and require virtually no maintenance costs.

On March 22, we join in marking World Water Day and the significant achievements that communities across the globe like these in Mongolia are making to ensure clean water. We are also reminded on this important day how much remains to be done. Even so, we are heartened to see that the parents and local governments of Khuvsgul province are ready to take on this challenge.

Bolormaa Purevjav is a senior advisor and program manager for The Asia Foundation in Mongolia. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.

Related locations: Mongolia
Related programs: Environment and Climate Action, Good Governance
Related topics: Water, World Water Day


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