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Mongolia’s high altitude (with an average elevation of 1580 metres), continental position and proximity to the Arctic create a harsh climate with a mean temperature (over the whole year) below 0 degrees Celsius.

Rainfall is low (varying from 460mm per year in the mountains to about 100mm in the Gobi desert) and on average Mongolia has 240 days of sunshine each year. However, the seasons are extreme. During the long, cold winter (which lasts from October to April) the temperature can drop as low as –40 degrees Celsius with an average temperature of –26 degrees C in January, the coldest month. Summer days can be hot, up to 40 degrees C in the Gobi desert, and averaging 16 degrees C in July. However, even in summer the weather can suddenly turn quite cold when the wind is from the north.

Mongolia’s harsh climate and sparsely populated landscape cause special problems for its people. Over one third of government expenditure on health and education goes to heating (to combat the bitter winters) and transport (because of the vast distances between population centres). Urban families who do not live in centrally heated buildings must rely instead on costly coal, wood and animal dung for warmth. Those without homes (such as the street children) face even greater problems in trying to survive the 7-month winter.

 

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