In late August of 2005, Florida and Louisiana states of America were hit by the Katrina hurricane, killing thousands of people, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and US$100 billion was spent to overcome the total cost of damage to the economy.
A state of emergency was announced in these states and appropriate actions were taken in order to fight this natural disaster called “Katrina” that devastated normal life and activities of thousands of people and settlements.
A disaster almost similar to “Katrina” in damage to citizens and economic loss exists in the capital city of Mongolia. Every winter 1.5 million residents of Ulaanbaatar City are poisoned by extremely poisonous smoke and thousands of residents in ger districts or in the vicinity, particularly elders and infants are losing consciousness suffering from carbon monoxide.
The situation is worsening for people in the ger districts cannot find their own yard in the smoky dark streets of winter and even if they do find it they cannot see their home. More than 200 thousand chimneys emit half-combusted coal smoke, polluting the air in such a catastrophic quantity.
Because poor residents of ger district cannot afford to buy coal to heat their gers in winter, they burn used tires of automobile and bricks soaked in used engine oil to heat their gers in cold nights. If you look at the city from the southern mountain in wintertime, you cannot distinguish gers from apartments in a thick dark smoke and dust and people are suffering from asthma and allergy. That is how the world’s most polluted city of Ulaanbaatar looks. The smoke in Ulaanbaatar became not a matter of urgent problem but a matter of disaster.
If a problem exists, it can be discussed and settled. In a disaster, it is settled through continuous efforts and hard work by mobilizing all strengths and resources available. Unfortunately, our city authorities are trying to deal with this by just meeting, discussing and passing a law. It is almost a well-established tendency or practice that Mongolian politicians and city authorities develops hot debate about the city smoke in winter times but forgets about it when it gets warm.
For instance, last spring a parliament resolution was passed to allocate MNT18.2 trillion for the purpose of implementing so-called “New Reform” in the second half of this year, but nothing was done and nothing was started and politicians are afraid of talking about this.
They continue to spout off about smoke-free coal and “magical” stove and cannot do anything but machinating many billions of tugrugs by supplying heatless but more expensive compressed fuel than ordinary coal, at higher costs. Though both the city mayor and the city parliament continue saying that combating smoke is the first priority and that ger districts must turn into dwelling apartment blocks, in reality they did nothing. Talks about adopting a special law and tax system for the city are not finished after many years and they did nothing but complain. How long should we tolerate these irresponsible politicians who are playing with our lives and health.
A disaster is not settled by market approaches. It can be solved only through efficient use of smart approaches and rapid efforts at any cost. That is the only way for us to fight the Mongolian “Katrina” affecting Ulaanbaatar City.
It is urgent to zero the price of night-time electricity in the ger districts to allow ger residents to use the heating system instead of firing coal to heat their gers; and forbid the consumption of raw coal. Obviously expenses might be high. But apartment dwellers don’t pay for water they used at the real market price, whereas ger district dwellers pay exactly as much as they use. Why cannot ger district dwellers be given some discounts or concessions in terms of electricity payment.
It is not right that it is not the poor residents of ger districts but only the rich and officials benefit from state discounts and concessions. Current and further damages to the population’s health, the reduction of their labor productivity, the loss of time spent for treatment, the psychological damage, the outbound investment made by rich people who becomes like amphibians escaping from polluted city and the migration cost of “waterbirds” altogether make the damage caused by the Mongolian “Katrina” as many billion dollars.
If the damage caused by poisonous smoke were to be measured and compared to the cost required for its solution, then the damage will exceed the cost. Thus, we need to strike a wake-up gong about the Mongolian “Katrina” to fight the air pollution more vigorously.