Posted on December 30, 2013 by Piper Anne Wind Campbell, U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia
At the opening ceremony near the town of Ayrag in Dornogobi province on September 5, the American and Mongolian governments celebrated a major milestone—the successful completion of the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s North-South Road Project connecting the cities of Choir and Sainshand.
Building on the success of the MCC project, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) completed a separate road project between Sainshand and Zamyn-Uud on November 20. For the first time in history, these developments allow Mongolians to easily travel across their country on an all-weather paved road, connecting them to their two neighbors, Russia and China.
MCC’s North-South Road Project—funded by the U.S. Government and implemented by Millennium Challenge Account-Mongolia (MCA-Mongolia)—constructed 174 kilometers of road to reach key national and regional markets. Two link roads were also built to connect thousands of Mongolians to the main corridor, and the project provided road maintenance equipment to the Ministry of Roads and Transportation for the sustainable upkeep of the newly built road.
I’m proud of this project because it finished on schedule and will ultimately benefit more than 150,000 Mongolians. It is also an example of strong partnership and coordination: MCC and MCA-Mongolia collaborated with the ADB to assess road maintenance needs and received initial designs for the Choir-Sainshand road from the ADB.
In fact, I’m proud of all the good work produced during MCC’s five-year, $285 million compact, which I’ve seen unfold firsthand during my 1½ years as the U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia. I've spoken with herders and urban beneficiaries who are receiving land titles for the first time, met students who intend to use their MCC-funded vocational education to find better-paying jobs and toured the newly equipped Cardiac and Stroke Intensive Care and Diagnostic Unit at Shastin Hospital in the capital, Ulaanbaatar.
The completion of the North-South Road Project is particularly impressive given the limited construction timeline. Implementation began halfway through the five-year Mongolia Compact, following a major restructuring. Adding to these challenges, the initial construction contractor experienced financial insolvency at a time when there were only two construction seasons remaining in the compact’s terms.
Mongolia’s harsh winters mean construction can only occur from April through September, and MCA-Mongolia worked diligently to keep the subcontractors from the initial contractor working to avoid losing a valuable construction season. After rebidding the contract, the two new contractors worked long hours to get work done on time, while adhering to the strict environmental and social standards set by MCC and MCA-Mongolia.
The road is also a remarkable achievement because it reflects high quality standards. Many Mongolians view the road as the best ever built in their country because of its international-standard quality and technical specifications. In its funding, design and construction, the North-South Road Project is an example of what international efforts and cooperation among various donors and contractors can achieve.
In all these ways, the road is more than pavement. It is a corridor to the new opportunities of economic development and growth. And, it will long be a symbol of a Mongolia on the rise and a testament to the power of partnerships to reduce poverty and replace it with prosperity.
Posted on December 20, 2013 by Anne Brewer, Peace Corps volunteer, Lesotho
The following story is cross-posted on the Peace Corps Passport blog.
Since June 2011, I’ve had the honor of serving as a community health and economic development Peace Corps volunteer and working with Millennium Challenge Account-Lesotho as it implements MCC’s five-year, $363 million compact.
I work under the guidance of and in collaboration with MCA-Lesotho’s environmental and social assessment section. My job is to monitor, assess and mitigate the potential social effects of the compact relating to HIV/AIDS, human trafficking and gender. And with my Basotho counterparts, I have helped to build local capacity to empower the community to identify and proactively address such risks.
As I like to say, my job is to focus on the “human” aspect of MCC’s projects. And I believe that this partnership between the Peace Corps and MCC is helping create real change in the lives of Basotho families.
I live and work in a typical village in the northern Butha-Buthe district: I fetch my clean water at a nearby standpipe, part of a water system similar to the one MCC has provided to communities in rural areas all across Lesotho. Like most rural Basotho communities, my village has no electricity.
I spend about half my time working with the Department of Rural Water Supply, one of the major parties responsible for oversight and implementation of MCC’s rural water and sanitation programs, which have impacted more than 25 different villages across our district. The other half is spent with the local Department of Water Affairs, which supports the compact’s Wetlands Restoration and Conservation Activity.
For both projects, I have had the opportunity to travel to many sites and meet local community members, construction workers, contractors, and other stakeholders. With each visit or meeting, my purpose falls under the same broad category—to ensure that we are uplifting the Basotho in every possible way.
I work to ensure all of the parties entrusted with carrying out the MCC-funded projects are paying attention to the seemingly small details that matter a great deal when it comes to the beneficiaries’ health and safety. I interview the local men and women employed on the project site, as well as the contractor or his representative on-site, to find out if they are complying with MCC’s protocols. For example, are men and women, young and old, being given equal opportunities for employment? Are they being paid on time? Are they provided with all of the appropriate personal safety equipment? Have they been trained on what to do in the event of an emergency or accident, or what to do if they suspect a possible incident of human trafficking?
But my favorite part of the job has also been the most fun, enlightening and at times challenging: getting to stand in front of community members and talking with them about the questions, challenges and fears they face with regard to HIV and AIDS. Nearly one out of every four people in Lesotho is HIV-positive, the third-highest rate in the world. It affects every single community and every single family in Lesotho in one way or another.
Given the stigma and the accompanying fear of even talking about HIV/AIDS, it’s extremely rewarding to see community members open up and allow me to guide them in sometimes surprisingly open, honest discussions of these issues. I have to give the Peace Corps a lot of credit for my success on this front.
Because of the Peace Corps’ emphasis on local language learning, cultural integration and understanding, I have a definite level of credibility with the communities. Many appear to become much more comfortable when I introduce myself in their native language of Sesotho and explain that I am an American who is living as their neighbor for two years. In addition, Peace Corps’ training included in-depth information and background on the HIV epidemic in Lesotho, cultural barriers to behavior change and strategies for dealing with common myths and misconceptions, all of which have informed my work with MCA-Lesotho.
As a true model of cooperation across U.S. Government agencies, Peace Corps’ intensive training I received upon arrival and the ongoing support ever since have put me in a stronger position to carry out MCC’s mission.
Posted on December 3, 2013 by Carolyn Pryor, Program Officer, Mongolia
As I reflect on the three years that I worked on the Mongolia Compact, I am proud to have been a part of such a significant contribution to the country’s development in several crucial sectors—a contribution that will ultimately improve the lives of millions of Mongolians.
I joined MCC in 2010, shortly after MCA-Mongolia and MCC agreed to add two new projects, with only three years remaining in the compact’s life. The new Energy and Environment Project (EEP) was slated to target ever-growing air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, and the new North-South Road Project would pave a critical portion of highway connecting Mongolia to its key trade partners Russia and China. These two projects were particularly aspirational because there were only two construction seasons and two winter seasons remaining in the compact.
With MCA-Mongolia’s diligence and the contractor’s commitment to complete the project, the road was finished on time and on budget, while adhering to international environmental and social standards. The perseverance and ambition of the project team to complete this very difficult task within an extremely limited time frame, and in the severe construction climate contractors experience in Mongolia, is quite an impressive accomplishment.
Additionally, the EEP was able to subsidize nearly 100,000 energy-efficient stoves in just two winter seasons. I was able to meet several beneficiaries, and every single person spoke of the fuel savings for their families because of the new stoves. I also met a female sub-district leader who was involved with the EEP’s Greening Grants initiative. Her sense of ownership and pride shined through her stories. She said that she had always wanted to grow trees on her plot of land in the impoverished ger district in Ulaanbaatar, but she did not know how to sustain the health of the trees and shrubs in the harsh Mongolian winters. Through the initiative, she was able to learn about proper tree maintenance, while teaching others and keeping track of the neighbors who participated in the program. Not only did this initiative enable this woman to become a leader in her community, it also enabled this impoverished district to plant foliage in a sustainable manner.
During a visit to Mongolia in July, I noticed immediately the change among people working to create a smoke-free environment. At restaurants and countryside ger camps, I saw patrons stepping outside of restaurants to smoke. The Health Project’s involvement in creating smoke free provinces—along with the new Tobacco Control Law— drove this effort, and the change in daily life in Ulaanbaatar and the countryside is evident.
Another aspect of the Health Project that was particularly striking was my visit to Shastin Hospital. The state-of-the-art Stroke and Cardiac Intensive Care Unit established under the compact is a profound step forward in the treatment, management and diagnosis of stroke and cardiac disease in Mongolia. The equipment provided by the compact, coupled with training, will save many lives from these diseases and reduce incidences of disabilities. The rehabilitation unit will help patients suffering from these ailments recuperate more quickly. As a daughter of someone who has suffered from multiple heart attacks, this new unit’s ability to save the lives of Mongolian fathers, mothers, daughters, and sons from one of the most prevalent causes of disability and death in Mongolia strikes a personal chord.
The compact’s involvement in the property rights sector also made crucial progress in bringing economic growth to the most impoverished and vulnerable Mongolians. One beneficiary of the urban component of the Property Rights Project personally told me that the registration process she went through for her plot took her two months; previously, it would have taken her a year. I met with a female herder group leader near Baaganuur, who demonstrated her pride in the investments made in her land plot, including a well and winter shelter area for her cattle. She was working as an interlocutor between other local herders and the dairy market, helping promote sustainable economic growth for her industry as well as the herders in the surrounding areas.
Such investments in infrastructure, health, property rights, and the reduction of air pollution were complemented by the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Project, which trained the leaders of tomorrow in the technical skills needed to properly meet the demands of the growing industries in Mongolia. During my visit to the Zarvkhan Vocational Training Production Center, I learned firsthand about new up-to-date training equipment and simulators that teach students to use heavy-duty machinery properly. Students at this center had high employment rates after graduation and were actually teaching their employers about the newest tricks of the trade!
Finally, it is important to note the government’s commitment to sustain the compact’s results. The Ministry of Economic Development and the Cabinet Secretariat have committed to continue managing like MCA-Mongolia—with a program logic based on economic rates of return, projects that uphold international environmental and social standards and diligent monitoring and evaluation.
I congratulate MCA-Mongolia on the successful completion of all the complex compact projects. This impressive accomplishment will benefit Mongolians for decades to come.