For sustainable society


Toxic Air Tearing Families Apart

The air pollution problem in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia is very serious, just as serious as in cities such as New Delhi and Beijing. Even though specialists have warned of development disorders, chronic diseases, and in the worst cases death, the air pollution level is constantly worse than the air quality standards recommended by the World Health Organization.

One mother living in Ulaanbaatar spoke of how her daughter Amina was, due to suffering from a compromised immune system, always battling illnesses right from birth. Because of how bad the situation is in the city, Amina was forced to live with her grandparents in a village 135 km from Ulaanbaatar. The return trip takes three hours, but her mother makes the journey every week to see her daughter. As with Amina’s family, many parents living in Ulaanbaatar believe that sending their children away is the only way to protect them from the air pollution.

Residents in parts of the city lined with traditional tents called “gers” keep warm by burning coal or any other flammable material on hand. The resulting thick black smoke covers surrounding areas in smog, making it difficult to see even a few meters. Perhaps because of the pollution, hospitals are congested and for children there is the risk that even a common cold can quickly deteriorate into a life-threatening illness.

The chronic smog has led residents of wealthier areas to blame the ger residents for the air pollution and demand that the gers be removed. However, the ger residents respond that coal is all they can afford, causing tension between the groups. To address this problem, in 2017 the local government restricted domestic migration and prohibited burning coal, but it is unclear whether these initiatives will bring about any change.

There is no question that pollution is damaging the health of people in Ulaanbaatar, but it is also a serious situation for people considering having children. In a situation where there are no decisive measures available, urgent improvements such as working on the introduction of renewable energy sources are desirable.