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Geography, climate and population
Mongolia is located in the north of the central Asian plateau and has an area of about 1.56 million km2 (Table 1). It is a landlocked country bordered in the north by the Siberian Russian Federation, and in the east, south and west by China. Administratively the country is divided into 21 provinces (aimags), each with a provincial capital and a local government headed by an aimag governor, and the capital city Ulaanbaatar.
The country consists principally of inter-mountain plateaux. About 80 percent of the territory lies above 1 000 m above sea level. The main mountain ranges are the Mongolian Altai in the west and the Khangai and Khentii mountains in the north and centre, with the large depression of the Great Lakes located between the two ranges, while to the east there are elevated plains. Geographically, Mongolia can be divided into four regions: Khangai forest region, the eastern steppe region, Gobi (Govi in Mongolian) desert region and the semi-desert region.
The total cultivable area is an estimated 1.8 million ha, which is about 1 percent of the total area. Some 80 percent of the total land area can be used for pastoral activities. The main crop growing areas are in the central-northern part of the country and include portions of Selenge, Tov and Bulgan provinces, which contain about 67 percent of all cultivated land. These areas comprise a broad basin draining to the north. Only valley bottom land and the lower slopes of hills with sufficiently deep soils are cultivated. In 2009, the total cultivated area was estimated at 962 000 ha, of which 960 000 was arable land and 2 000 ha permanent crops. Only 10 percent of the country is forested (FAO, 2003).
The country has severe climatic conditions with long cold winters. The average annual precipitation is 241 mm, ranging from 400 mm in the north to less than 100 mm in the southern Gobi region. The mean monthly temperature is below 0 ░C throughout the country between November and March. Late spring and early autumn (even late summer) frosts reduce the vegetation period to 80-100 days in the north and 120-140 days in the south. Summer precipitation occurs between June and August, representing 80-90 percent of the total annual rainfall. Other climatic factors affecting agricultural production include low soil moisture and air humidity in spring and early summer, and strong winds in spring, resulting in high evaporation and soil erosion.
The total population in 2009 was 2.7 million, of which around 39 percent lived in rural areas (Table 1). Mongolia is sparsely populated with the lowest average population density in the world, 2 inhabitants/km2, but there are 180 inhabitants/km2 in the capital city Ulaanbaatar. The annual population growth rate during the period 1999-2009 was 1.3 percent.
In 2008, access to improved drinking water sources reached 76 percent (97 and 49 percent for the urban and rural population respectively). Sanitation coverage accounts for 50 percent (64 and 32 percent for the urban and rural population respectively).