I just spent two months in Mongolia, more exactly in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of the country. I was employed by one of the American donors in order to audit the Mongolian National Land Information System (NLIS). We were a team of two people for this mission: Alastair Hill in charge of the IT infrastructure and myself in charge of the land tenure data and registration application....
When we arrived at the Administration of Land Affairs, Construction, Geodesy and Cartography (ALACGaC), the NLIS server was shut down. “Everyone is complaining about this tool and we don't understand what it happening so we shut it down” told us the person in charge of the server.
Mongolia was once known as the “country without fences” where wild horses were running across the steppes and where Mongolians were living as nomads following herds in the big open space. Today the country has changed, nomads are not facing the hard living conditions in the steppes and yurts have gathered little by little around the three major cities creating slums. Access to water and other utilities is of course very precarious, herds have disappeared due to lack of space, the confined social environment is hard to handle for these former nomads and fences have raised; is today's life actually more difficult than yesterday's? In reality, the country is in a major transformation stage because the economy is booming for the past two decades and the government is facing difficulties to handle these drastic changes due to lack of resources.
Great ideas are present though, it is even the reason why in 2000 an ambitious program was lunched to set up a Land Information System. Nearly 300,000 parcels were surveyed as based of rural and urban development in Mongolia. Unfortunately, the land survey and mapping standards necessary for this kind of system were not defined with enough perceptiveness and accuracy. As a result, many confusions occurred in the parcel numbering creating many land disputes. As I was coming from Afghanistan, a country where land disputes appear because of ancestral tribal wars, I was very frustrated to realize that land disputes could actually occur in a country where the notion of “property” is almost absent because of a system wrongly established. One week after the start of our mission, the server re-started, a one meter pile of documentation to read, many discussions with the ALACGaC members in charge of the NLIS and a boiling brain, Alastair and I realized sadly that the technology added over this last decade was made superficially without taking into consideration the lack of initial knowledge in Mongolia regarding computerized systems.
The mapping knowledge though was not missing. Like in Afghanistan, Russians proceeded to major land survey and mapping campaigns all over the country until the end of the nineties. From the scale 1 / 2,000 to the scale 1 / 2,000,000, the entire territory was measured in detailed assessing the wealth of this country's ground and underground. Today the Mongol geodesists and cartographers are was a success, the experts transformed the maps from the original Krassowsky projection to the recent UTM projection without any issue; it is even with excitement that the Mongolian specialists talk about the transformation parameters. This observation was actually positive thinking about the setting-up of a cadastral system based on international standards.
The re-implementation of the NLIS is an absolute necessity, even an emergency, but it is already running behind regarding the other existing land information systems in Mongolia recording territorial and tenure data. The NLIS will to be more than a simple land information system, it will need to be a way to reconcile all these lands records around a common standardized system. Together with Alastair, we concluded that the best way to reconcile all these data would be an addressing system. As already 80% of the herders have now settled down, it will therefore be a benefit to materialize their location with a concrete point; these fixed addressing points would then be the point of linkage for any organization recording land information. This common system would greatly contribute to improving transparency in terms of land information, allowing regulated property tax collection and therefore having efficient land development. This NLIS re-implementation will have to be proceeded in focusing first on the idea of land occupation and social tenure, then on the cadastral methodology to employ in Mongolia and finally on an intense and regular training program dedicated to the future Management Information Systems experts using the most advanced technology on the planet.