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Mongolia’s Capital Banned Coal To Fix Its Pollution Problem. Will It Work?

15 · Dec · 2019

 

Looking out over ger district haze.
Photo Credit: Regis Defurneaux for Breathe Mongolia

In the past 20 years, 600,000 people have migrated to Ulaanbaatar, raising the population to more than twice what the city was originally designed to support. Many new migrants occupy traditional gers off the city’s electric grid. Lacking infrastructure and often living below the poverty line, people in the ger districts burn cheap raw coal, garbage and other material to stay warm, creating upwards of 80% of the city’s pollution. Wealthier Mongolians can afford an insulated apartment or an at-home air filter. Families contributing to air pollution the most are those least able to escape it.

 Last winter, a report by UNICEF Mongolia deemed the situation a “child health crisis.” Exposure to pollution over time creates serious health problems, especially for young children: toddlers breathe twice as quickly as adults, and infants even more so. Pneumonia is the second-leading cause of death for children under age 5 in Mongolia. Pediatrician Enkhzul Jargal, director of Bayanzurkh Medical Center in Ulaanbaatar, considers pollution a violation of children’s rights. “Disease is not for the children because they’re not doing any bad things. Just growing,” Enkhzul says.

The Mongolian government is banning coal and distributing a coal byproduct called semicoke, more expensive than coal but said to burn twice as long and emit far less fumes. Meanwhile, Ulaanbaatar’s municipal government works on the ger areas development project, backed by the Asian Development Bank. Boloroo Naranbaatar, who is overseeing a government-led project to expand infrastructure and central services in the most polluted neighborhoods, is determined. “I like challenges. Get it done. You fail? Then you try again… People are tired of living like this,” she says. “When [residents] have a better life, a better income, it’s more likely they’ll improve their living conditions.”

 

Read the original: Mongolia’s Capital Banned Coal To Fix Its Pollution Problem. Will It Work?

Published on July 30th, 2019 on NPR

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