Around 300 people demonstrated at Sukhbaatar Square on March 18 to demand that the state adopts a national program on air pollution reduction by the end of March.
On National Soldiers’ Day, protesters got in formation to spell “Utaag Shiid” (resolve smog) and “Emnelgee Bari” (build hospitals) with green cards held above their heads, and expressed their frustration with the government’s slow efforts to improve air quality and eliminate air pollution-related diseases in Ulaanbaatar.
Air pollution-related diseases are the top three causes of premature death in adults in Mongolia. Pneumonia accounts for 15 percent of deaths among children and can be attributed to poor air quality. It’s common for hospitals in Ulaanbaatar to become overwhelmed during the winter as the number of sick children admitted for care drastically increases.
Last year, UNICEF announced that Ulaanbaatar was one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world. Studies found that the lungs of children living in districts with the highest recorded levels of pollution did not function as well as those of children living in rural areas, putting them at risk of chronic respiratory diseases as they age.
On multiple occasions this winter, pollution readings in some ger areas were nearly 30 times higher than levels considered safe by the World Health Organization.
City residents said they would hold more demonstrations if the government continued to prolong the approval of the national anti-air pollution program and ignore their demand for the disclosure of government spending and other details on air pollution reduction projects carried out over the last 15 years.
“Air pollution is addressed only during winter and forgotten about during the rest of the year. To ensure this doesn’t happen again, public measures to combat air pollution will be organized every month,” said a member of Moms and Dads Against Smog (MDAS), a grassroots group of concerned citizens who have been organizing demonstrations against air pollution in Ulaanbaatar since last December.
Concerned Mongolians, from five to 80 years old, have been standing in frigid weather to call attention to this public health issue through three previous demonstrations. Their efforts to fight for the right to breathe fresh air have resonated worldwide, as people have supported their cause with demonstrations held in New York, Illinois, New Jersey, and Virginia in the United States and in Budapest, Hungary.