It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that air pollution has been the most urgent problem for the past 15 years in not only Ulaanbaatar but also big cities worldwide. Every year, numerous meetings, conferences and other measures are organized at national scale to address this issue but other than documenting data and carrying out more of the same projects, a significant result is yet to be seen.
Most people are blaming ger areas as the main cause of the deadly smog in the city but they’re not completely at fault. Ulaanbaatar has been branded as “one of the most polluted cities in the world” because policymakers and decision-makers failed to provide a substantial policy or an efficient counter plan for mitigating air pollution all these years.
Air pollution is a concern for everyone, especially to almost half of the Mongolian population living in Ulaanbaatar. The human right to a safe and healthy environment has been violated and neglected for over a decade. When exactly will we be able to live in a healthy, smog-free city? When will we no longer have to worry about respiratory and lung illnesses?
At first, air pollution used to be considered a small problem of smog, but now, everyone knows that it’s a serious environmental problem. We can find countless data and figures related to air pollution’s impact on health, but the issue is still looming with no signs of improvement. The government has done nothing but finance projects claimed to create smoke-free coal, eco-stoves and air filters. The government reportedly spent 147 billion MNT from the state budget and 60 million USD from international grants to combat air pollution in the past eight years. However, the level of air pollution hasn’t declined, according to studies.
Unlike previous years, the National Air Pollution Reduction Program was launched earlier this year. The program aims to tackle air pollution in two stages, from the year 2017 to 2019 and from 2020 to 2035. Although this is a progress, experts and civil society organizations doubt the effectiveness of the program and even nicknamed it as the “dream list”.
The main reason is that the first stage is nearing its end yet not a single substantial work has been completed, they said. Government officials announced to provide a discount on nighttime electricity consumption, stop raw coal consumption, and ban urban to rural movement. It’s already the middle of winter but the only promise fulfilled is the discount to ger area residents using electricity during nighttime. But most ger area residents say they are too poor to make use of the free nighttime electricity because they can’t afford electric heaters.
When asked about the National Air Pollution Reduction Program, director of Mums and Dads Against Smog Ts.Purevkhuu responded, “There’s no financing for actions and projects included in the national program. It’s a lsot cause since only around fifty of over 100 actions are being somewhat implemented. Hence, it’s necessary to redevelop its content to make it into a program that can actually be implemented and eliminate the smog.”
She claimed that the Air Pollution Reduction National Committee holds meaningless meetings and doesn’t initiate new solutions.
“The committee is full of high-ranking people who only suggest improved stoves and coals like they’ve done all these years. Coals processed with tax money are being distributed to 4,700 families living in poverty. Government organizations are producing smog with tax money. They should at least distribute base floor heaters. Politicians are still trying to compel people to buy stoves that cost two million MNT to four million MNT. Housing projects consistent with the revenue of the Housing Finance Corporation should be carried out,” she said.
It’s been almost six months since the National Air Pollution Reduction Program was launched. This is more than enough time to make a difference. But lacks of initiative and commitment have turned the program into nothing but another piece of paper left on a shelf. Let’s hope that these targets are met before the launch of the second stage of program in 2020.
Below are actions to be taken through the National Air Pollution Reduction Program:
- Restrict the number of people moving to the capital, stop the expansion of ger areas in Ulaanbaatar, and prevent the increase of stoves.
- Provide a legal environment for ger area relocation and redevelopment and implement projects to build a railway for cargo transportation and a highway.
- Study and coordinate the issue to relocate government organizations and universities away from the capital.
- Expand and enhance the capacity of electricity distribution networks and substations, and create a technical opportunity for ger area residents to use electric heaters with a capacity of 2.5 kilowatts to four kilowatts.
- Within the scope of the Affordable Home Program, build infrastructure for constructing apartments in ger areas, intensify housing projects, and provide long-term, low-interest mortgage loans to young people and people with low and medium income.
- Improve toilets in ger areas in cities and other settlements to meet related health and sanitary standards.
- Establish a factory equipped with innovative and green technology through a cluster-based approach and take progressive steps to relocate the hide, wool and cashmere processing factory, car repair and technical inspection centers, and construction materials markets outside of the capital.
- Within the scope of ger area redevelopment, build a green zone and small garden park, and increase green area per capita to meet urban planning standards.
- Take progressive steps to relocate homes, companies and organizations situated in flood risk zones and near dams.
- Increase locations for keeping ashes and waste from ger area families, increase trucks for collecting and transporting waste, improve waste management, and support factories that reuse and recycle waste.
- Create a system to grant incentives to producers, importers and exporters of wastes such as plastics, batteries, accumulators, daytime light bulbs, tires, and oil if they recollect and recycle their products.
- Study suitable waste management strategies for the roads and transportation sector and establish a vehicle recycling factory.
- Construct resting stop complexes that provide comfortable temporary accommodation service with green solutions to drivers and passengers on intercity roads.
- Provide incentives to individuals and entities that take initiative and promote the reduction of environmental and air pollution.
As you can see from the list, some of the actions aren’t completely targeted to reduce air pollution. The main reason for it is that the national program was originally designed to achieve one of the government’s targets for the year 2020, which specifies to “reduce air, water and soil pollution in urban places and implement an appropriate waste management”.
Putting that to the side, these actions are fully feasible for practical application. The government had sufficient time to take action and mitigate the most urgent problem in Ulaanbaatar – air pollution. Instead of squabbling over their political power, politicians ought to focus on providing a healthier living environment for not only the public but also themselves. Air pollution is an issue that requires everyone’s attention and effort.
This article was originally published in Mongolian in Zuunii Medee.