Mongolian children collect drinking water from the Catholic mission station in Shuwuu that has been operated by Salesian missionaries since 2016. (Photo: YouTube)
Every day hundreds of people from at least 300 families line up to collect clean water from the Catholic mission station in Shuwuu, about 30 kilometers from Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia.
This water point has been the only source of clean water for hundreds of families in the area since it was set up in 1998.
Throughout the year, many more come from the countryside to collect drinking water to take to their homes.
Safe drinking water is a rare commodity in Mongolia and water scarcity is seen a threat to development in the mineral-rich Central Asian nation.
According to the 2030 Water Resource Group, groundwater supplies for 80 percent of water consumption in the country have been constantly depleting amid the desiccation of rivers and lakes. Up to 40 percent of Mongolians have no access to safe water, while in Ulaanbaatar roughly half of 1.3 million residents face water scarcity.
Charity groups estimate that one in every four primary schools in Mongolia has no safe drinking water and students are compelled to use water from unsafe sources, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of children from diarrheal disease.
Mongolia’s water crisis is a common global phenomenon. According to UN-Water, about 2.1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water and by 2050 another 2 billion people in the world would push demand for water up to 30 percent higher than today.
In many places in Mongolia, especially rural areas, tanker trucks bring water to villagers from faraway water sources.
The water point was set up during the tenure of the late Bishop Wenceslaus Padilla, of the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar, who led the tiny Catholic Church in Mongolia from 1992 to 2018.
Bishop Padilla, a Filipino, entrusted the mission center to missionaries from the Salesians of Don Bosco in 2016. The Salesians have continued to serve people during challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a recent video on the clean water service, Solongo, a local catechist, described the difficulties ordinary Mongolians in Shuwuu faced every day due to water scarcity before the well was set up.
“The well was an urgent need as the only water supply in the village was done by trucks,” she said.
Tsegmed, a villager and mother of four, said her family uses 10-15 liters of water for washing and cooking every day and it comes from the well of the mission.
“We needed more water during the Covid-19 pandemic to clean ourselves and the house more frequently,” she said.
Mongolia, a nation of about 3.2 million, has been able to keep Covid-19 at bay. It has recorded 1,456 cases and only two deaths thanks to a state of isolation since January 2020.
The pandemic, however, has caused suffering for many Mongolians as some 28 percent of people live below the poverty line, a figure the World Bank expects to jump to 35 percent.
Poverty in Mongolia steadily declined from about 60 percent in 1990 thanks to the nation’s break-up with the Soviet Union and switching to a market economy. Mongolia’s economic rebound was mostly credited to foreign investment linked to vast mineral resources and mining.
However, the excavation industry is also blamed for gradual depletion of groundwater in many parts of the country.
Salesian Brother Andrew Le Phuong, director of the Salesian planning and development office in Ulaanbaatar, said that despite the difficult situation during the pandemic they are glad to continue supplying water and expected to serve even more people in the coming days.
“Our hope is that clean water services and the other initiatives of the Salesians in Mongolia will become better known and attract more and more generous people around the world to contribute to our mission,” he told Salesians’ ANS service.
Brother Andrew also functions as an important bridge between potential donors or benefactors of the Salesian mission in Mongolia. He publishes a monthly newsletter on programs and activities of the Salesian mission that include a daycare center-cum-elementary school, centers for street children and disadvantaged youth and a technical school.
The Salesian mission plays an important role in the mission of the tiny Mongolian Catholic Church that has about 1,200 Catholics served by three churches.