Friday, September 18, 2009

City Air

After three days of staying in UB City, my European colleague told me bluntly: “Your city’s air is seriously polluted. You almost do not have any trees.

There is too much traffic jam. I have a headache and a sore throat.” Instead of staying for the weekend as planned, she left the country earlier to stay in Beijing, “where the air is better’.

What if she came to Ulaanbaatar in the winter and not at the beginning of September? A visitor will go back; but what about us, who stay here all year round?
As the cold winter comes, we are about to sink again into the thick polluted smog. We will shout and then our city officials will choir with the same old refrain: we are supplying 20 to 30 million dollars worth of smokeless bricketes and chimneyless stoves. But the real holders of this sum escape the winter to tropical beaches overseas. Left behind, we are poisoned, with some even dead, shout then forget as spring comes, and celebrate Naadam in summer just like in the fairy tale of “The Ant and The Grasshopper.”

Actually, we know very well the reasons of air pollution. The prime reason is that two hundred thousand chimneys of more than a half of the city population’s dwellings produce smoke from not fully burned coal, tires and bricks absorbed in used oil. The next reason is two hundred thousand vehicles with “UB” license plates, half of which are banned from use in Korea and China. The last reason is a destructing and plundering governance that pretends to plan and implement.

The main tool for removing these causes in a democratic society is a government itself that represents citizens. The duty of the government is to provide normal conditions for population’s safe life. Everyone knows that the basic condition of life is oxygen. For the city with over one million inhabitants, the normal condition of air is supported by green development that includes parks, flower beds, tree alleys, bushes but not weeds. In order to create healthy air required for human activities green developments absorb carbon dioxide from the air pool and produce oxygen through photosynthesis; and humidify the air, decrease noise, protect from wind and clean the air bacteria. Needless to say that green developments bring joy to the eye and help relieve the stress.

Yet, Mongolian government, in particular Ulaanbaatar city office, is the biggest enemy of this green development. Following are only three cases to prove it.
Construction of two large hotels on both sides of our only park, that we have cultivated for many years and called “The Children’s Park,” is in a full swing behind a tall closed fence, destroying hundreds of trees. There is a wonderful park in the center of New York City where people jog in the morning and picnic in the afternoon. They can preserve the park and we cannot here. Needless to mention London and Paris, lucky them! The difference between us is that they can unite their voices while we cannot. No one is interested in what air people breathe in or whether the children of future generations will be disabled as long as a few city officials and couple of companies get rich. For Mongolian bureaucrats, the illness or death of citizens is only statistics.

While normal countries move power plants out of the city to remote areas, in Mongolia it is on the contrary: they have decided to construct the fifth coal bedded power source in Uliyastai of Bayanzurkh District. They say it is cheaper to transport coal from Baganuur Mines to Bayanzurkh District. Air pollution is not their concern because almost each of them has secured one valley around UB, where smoke does not come and the air is fresh.

They have decided to erect a new parliament palace replacing the garden north of the current Government House. Each esteemed member of the parliament would have a working and a resting rooms, assistant office and meeting lounge. The 18 storey tower would have a gym, swimming pool, sauna, restaurant, barber shop and even a television repair shop taking a total space of 33 thousand square meters. The government cost of a democratic country should be proportional to the capacity of its economy and level of citizens’ living standard. As Mongolians say, “whistle according to the size of your herd of horses.” When the form does not reflect the content, it becomes funny. So, how about moving the parliament to its proper location as it cannot make its government, the main party at fault, to solve the air pollution problem. It will be much cheaper than 20 million dollars, which is planned for the new construction, to move the 76 clowns to the Blue Circus. Give us fresh air to breathe! Clean the polluted air! Or get us a gas-mask! One and a half million gas masks are nothing compared to billions of togrogs wasted.
Dear guests of Ulaanbaatar City, if you have a strong reason to visit us in the winter, please make sure to bring with you a gas-mask.


  1. Your blog is a great read. As a foreigner who first came to Ulaanbaatar in the winter, I was shocked when one spring day the smog lifted and I realized the city is surrounded by beautiful mountains!

    It seems that many of the problems facing the city are inter-connected: the lack of affordable housing, pollution, and the disconnect between law-makers and ordinary citizens.

    Unfortunately, as you point out, it doesn't look like things are going to turn around anytime soon.

  2. Hi Thank you. I agree with you. Someone is to say that. When many other join we will win one day.

  3. I wish all mongolians saw this report and entire blog and understand what are needed to do and how to push the throats of 76 clowns.
    Jargal keep warn people. You are doing brilliant. Your persistance will bring us happiness.
    Many people need to consider and narraw the point of views other than considering their daily livelihood.
    If everyone has time stop and look at exact issues hidden behind thick curtain smoke.
    I know that you are the wind to remove this smoke collected over the last decades.

    Wishing you great wisdom and power to complete what you are fighting for.