Friday, February 26, 2010

Air Quality

We, the residents of Ulaanbaatar City, have the right to breathe reasonably pure, or unpolluted air, because pure air is the most primary need and basic condition for living.

We also have the right to expect that the city’s air is reasonably pure and is not harmful to our health. Don’t we?

The only problem is that we have to be patient, and we must wait longer to exercise these rights. The reality is that we live in the coldest capital city in the world, and we can hardly take a breath in this most polluted city, like fish fighting until their last breath, after being taken out of the water.

As a country with a ministry for non-existing affairs, a so-called Air Quality Authority, was founded in Ulaanbaatar City a year ago. They printed a first-year report in a book with a deep blue cover – almost as if they’re mocking us and reminding us that once our city’s sky had been pure like that on the cover.

According to the book, major sources for city’s air pollution include stoves used by 145 thousand ger families (50.0%), thermal power plants (6.0%), 137 thousand vehicles (20.0%) 1,400 small and medium low-pressure heating boilders (10.0%) and other sources like, earth-road and building facilities under construction (14 % ).

Thermal power plants, low-pressure boilers, ger families, business entities and organizations combine to use 5.9 million tons of raw coal and burn 237,195.8 ΠΌ3 cords of wood in a single year, producing 260,000 tons of toxic substances to be released into the air, or 317.8 kg’s of toxic substances per annum in Ulaanbaatar. It means each city resident everyday “consumes” nearly a kilogram of toxic substances (irrespective of which politicial party they belong to). That’s the reason we’re putting on weight, and I was wondering why this has to be.

While the situation is such, nonetheless, the city’s air quality service says they’ve performed a number of actions, like implementation of policies and decisions passed by the government and city administration on determining, inspecting, and monitoring the air quality, releasing relevant statistics and information, prevention and reduction of air pollution, as well as drafting of air conservation related regulations, programs, standards, and projects.

In just the last three years, Tg6.2 billion was spent from the city budget for pollution reducing efforts like manufacturing of smokeless stoves and efficient fuels. However, for this period, the city’s air pollution rate actually increased by 28 percent.

Recently, the Health minister suddenly noticed that the city’s smoke and air pollution has already reached to the level of “disaster status”, and announced that 56 percent of all illnesses among children under the age of 16 in Ulaanbaatar, was caused by dust (establishing some green city parks could help this), or otherwise, air pollution. 10 percent of pregnant women had miscarriages and the birth of children with abnormalities has increased. Out of 4200 cases of cancer in 2009, 8.2 percent were cases of pulmonary tumors.
In our country, 90,700 persons suffer from respiratory diseases on average, and Tg4.8 billion is spent annually for their treatment. Tg2.4 billion was spent for the treatment of 36,400 patients in total. Estimates show that the number of sick persons may reach up to 42 thousand persons and Tg5 billion may need to be spent for their treatment by 2015, if we cannot manage to take considerable, reversable actions, today.

Today, we would happen to be walking on the streets of the most unpolluted city in the world, if only legislations passed by the government and all pledges made by city authorities were truly fulfilled.

The Law on Air act was even passed in 1995. Following this, the government and city administrators launched and passed various national programs and a number of decisions and resolutions. Most recently, was a national project called “Smokeless Ulaanbaatar”. Prime Minister S.Batbold initiated the project and submitted it this February for parliament consideration. In addition, it is said that the Minister for the Environment, L.Gansukh, will have completed his “war strategy against smoke” by tomorrow, at the latest.

Anyway, the central and city authorities have been fighting windmills, like Don Quixote did, and billions of tugrogs that have been paid in tax, have been disappearing under the name of smokeless fuel; etc. We have to sell smokeless fuel with the help of subsidies equivalent to 75 percent of the fuel manufacturing costs, in order to bring it to a rate competitive with the prices of the fuel they buy. Though, it is still too far to bring it to every family living in the gers.

Minerals and Energy Minister Zorigt stated once that Tg100 billion out of Tg180 billion required for the reduction of air pollution by 5 percent will be spent for such subsidies, only. Probably the economists above do not know that such spending is exactly the same as burning the money in a fireplace. Nor do political parties raise money in such ways as to win their next elections. They really do not care if we breathe pure air, or not. Their only concern is to be elected one more time. Wouldn’t it be more proper and effective to run the city’s parliamentary elections in January. It is even suitable for the cabinet of ministers to appoint the city mayor.

The only method to eliminate air pollution completely is to turn ger districts into dwelling apartment blocks, and I am writing this to remind us once again that now is the time to focus on solving this problem through the registration of lands in the ger districts, in cooperation with ger district homesteaders.


  1. A more detailed report

  2. Dear Jargalsaikhan,

    I appreciated your article on air quality in UB. The problem is momentous.

    I wish you would have mentioned switching renewable power generation. The opportunity for wind and solar power in Mongolia is so high. It might be the sunniest capital in the world.

    This is an area where Mongolia should "leap frog" in development. Just as like leap frogging directly to cell phones instead of developing an extensive land line network.

    It is these kinds of issues that should be pressed and addressed in negotiations around Oyou Tolgoi. I could see a contract that equated natural resource extraction with air quality improvement. Otherwise how will the people see the benefit of these resources? How otherwise will the government become concerned with these health effects?

    Are they creating suburbs over the mountains to avoid the air in UB yet?

    Good luck to you. I appreciate your columns.


  3. This procedure does not call for the installation of the manifold gauge set. The procedure should be used only as an indication of the actual system condition.

  4. Now that we know the sources we can take some effort to reduce them from these sources.This is a very informative update.