Bayan Ulgii is Mongolia’s western-most province, set in the Altai mountains where Mongolia, China, and Russia converge. It is also the only province where Mongolians are not the majority: about 90 percent of the population is ethnically Kazakh.
The Islamic Kazakh community has a higher birthrate than its Mongolian neighbors, as well as one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country. In 2008, Bayan Ulgii’s maternal mortality rate was 76.7 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to the national average of 49 per 100,000 live births. And while infant mortality hovers near the national average, Mongolia as a whole has the 67th worst infant mortality rate in the world, according to the CIA’s 2009 estimate.
On a recent visit to Ulgii, I tried to learn more about the beginnings of life and premature death there.