Reportedly, 20,000 mothers are planning to hold a masked demonstration on December 26 at Sukhbaatar Square.
O.Undram, mother of three, initiated the demonstration to voice concern for the health of all children. She explained that mothers couldn’t bear to watch their children receive treatment on hospital floors after waiting in line for six hours.
The current air pollution in Mongolia is 36 times higher than the accepted international level according to the Public Health Institute. Air pollution related diseases are the leading causes of death in Mongolia.
O.Undram gave details of the demonstration in the following interview.
What made an ordinary working mother want to submit a petition and strike?
I have three children. The oldest is in fifth grade, and the younger ones are four and two years old. They’ve been constantly catching the flu ever since they started going to kindergarten. All mothers try to improve their children’s immunity, feed them healthy food and keep them warm to make sure that they grow up healthy. Yet, after a few coughs in the morning, my son’s teacher calls me asking me to come and pick him up because he had a fever. He looked really sick when I went to get him and I decided to take him to the hospital because he wouldn’t stop coughing on our ride back home.
At the hospital, the doctor diagnosed that both of his lungs were affected by pneumonia. My son has been admitted to the hospital three to four times between September and November. He’s still staying at the hospital right now. I tried to figure out why he was catching the flu so often and after a bit of research, I discovered that this type of phenomenon is common in highly polluted countries.
Have you researched about child morbidity?
According to my own research, more than 40,000 children are affected by influenza and pneumonia every year (in Mongolia). 505 newborn children have died this year, whereas in 2015, 475 children died. Around 100 to 200 children aged between one and five die every year due to this disease. Air pollution has really destroyed in the lungs of children, making them prone to illness and dependent medicines and treatment. I have big expectations and high hopes regarding my children’s futures, dreams, accomplishment, career, and their children. I don’t want my kids to suffer from lung diseases all of their life and have to constantly wear medical breathing apparatus.
My child should not have to suffer from lung diseases just because he lives in Mongolia. This has become a huge issue, which everyone knows and are concerned about. Since no one is stepping up to fight this matter, I decided to take the initiative to bring focus to air pollution and its influence on child health through a petition.
When will the petition become ready?
The research materials are almost ready and now I’m collecting X-ray and other evidences from mothers. A three-year-old’s medical book has already been used up. This shows how severe child morbidity is in Mongolia. We plan to complete all necessary research and documents within this week and submit it to the government on Friday. The earlier we submit it, the earlier we can see results. That’s what we’re hoping for at least.
Is it true that 20,000 mothers will gather for a demonstration at Sukhbaatar Square? Countless demonstrations have been held and numerous petitions were signed, but most of them were forgotten in time. Are you planning to strike once or several times?
We decided to wear black masks with the idea that our white masks have turned black due to smog. This demonstration is for the masses – to alarm the people and show them that we’re starting something to combat air pollution and smog. People will wonder what we’re doing if we’re outside of the State Palace. We’ll be grateful if people share and support our fight and intentions on social media.
It’s not like air pollution will disappear by holding a demonstration. It’s clear that the government will respond and tell us about what they are doing for countermeasures for air pollution. The law states that every Mongolian has the right to live in a safe and healthy environment. We want to exercise this right. If there’s no response, we can even file a law suit against the government to protect our rights. We have several things planned.
You are planning to submit air pollution reduction project proposals along with research materials and the petition. Can you briefly tell us about that?
I know a few young Mongolians who came up with air pollution solutions. Coal isn’t the only reason why air pollution isn’t decreasing. People are lighting fires using whatever they have because their livelihood is poor. Moreover, the mortgage loan with eight percent interest rate was initiated to reduce air pollution caused by ger district stoves, yet it hasn’t reached its target group.
Currently, we’re working on a few projects and initiatives. For instance, some countries have resolved smoke issues from stoves using gas stoves. This could be dangerous if used incorrectly, but it will not lead the nation toward a disaster like coal. If more power plants are buiilt, electrical use hours in remote communities can be elongated to reduce air pollution. There’s a company that came up with a way to reduce electric bills using a floor heating system which reduces costs from 600,000 MNT to 250,000 MNT per month. N.Enkhbolor, who works at the World Bank, offered to help and shared that the Bill Gates invests his money to combat air pollution through his family fund.
We will approach this matter carefully with thorough research and studies.
Are you saying that you will continue to combat air pollution after the demonstration?
If we account that over 750,000 families live in Ulaanbaatar and exactly half of them live in ger areas, we can say that the city is suffering because of these families. To be honest, 375,000 isn’t a large number. Reportedly, 97 billion MNT was spent these past years to fight air pollution. This money should have been sufficient to resolve smoke emissions of almost 380,000 families. We will submit project proposals based on thorough and extensive studies.
Why are you submitting the petition under the name of an app called “Mum”?
I have an app named Mum. People are unable to take care of their health due to lack of information. Of course, some people are able to get their hands on the necessary health information on their own, but (the app) provides free advice and consultation for those unable to find reliable information. Air pollution has definitely become a very concerning issue among mothers. So I named our petition and demonstration with the Mum app’s name.
What are you doing on your own to protect your children from air pollution?
Many parents are saying that children catch the flu all the time while attending a public kindergarten and that they become immune to it after a while as if it’s a normal thing. It’s unfortunate that people are hardly paying attention to this grave issue which is near disaster-level. Children are experiencing shortness of breath just by going up and down the stairs. This is how weak children’s lungs have become.
My four-year-old daughter was admitted to the National Center for Maternal and Child Heath a few days ago because the doctors found some problem in her lung, which was caused from not fully treating pneumonia. Any mother can tell if their child is coughing due to an allergic reaction or something else. Not everyone can afford to purchase expensive air conditioners so most people grow plants at home. However, children could get allergic reactions from microscopic insects on the plant. In the end, I have no choice but to have my children wear masks. I’m afraid to even let them take off their mask when they sleep. But then again, masks aren’t going to combat air pollution and smoke issues in Mongolia. We must go straight to the core of the problem. Distributing masks is as hopeless as distributing trash bags.
Thank you for the interview.
Thank you. I will raise my children and make a living with my own strength. I need to keep working hard to ensure we don’t starve, but if any of my children become sick, I have to stay with them at the hospital for at least a week. I’ll have to buy medication, vaccination, needles and so much more. A mouthpiece for oxygen breathing apparatus costs 4,500 MNT, a tube and needle costs up to 4,000 MNT, and the medication after getting out of the hospital costs over 81,000 MNT. Hospitals bills are also very expensive. All these expenses amount to more than 500,000 MNT, which is my one-month salary. My husband works so we might be able to survive until next month, but there are people who can’t afford this. It’s time to call attention to this matter.