Jan. 12 – Air pollution kills about 1,600 people in Ulaanbaatar every year, and is the cause of an additional 8,500 hospital admissions for lung and heart diseases, according to a joint study undertaken by the World Bank and the Mongolian Ministry of Nature.
According to the study, the concentration of dust particles in the air is 35 times the standard recommended by the World Health Organization (WTO). According to the new report released by the WTO in September 2011, Ulaanbaatar is the second most polluted city in the world and it is also the world’s coldest capital city.
Pollution concentrations are particularly high in the cold winter months in the ger (Mongolian traditional felted tents), where two-third of the population of modern Ulaanbaatar lives and where inhabitants rely on stoves to heat their homes. For about eight months of the year, heating is essential for the survival of residents. In these areas, which are mainly located upwind of the city, the only sources of heat are poor quality stoves or individual household boilers fueled by coal, wood and in some cases rubbish—varying from black tar dipped bricks to old car tires.
The study shows that pollution levels in some locations of Ulaanbaatar are so high that the study team is not aware of similar high monitored particulate matter (PM) values in any other city in the world. In order to bring concentrations in line with Mongolia’s air quality standards, emissions have to be reduced by more than 90 percent.
The most critical factors contributing to the high PM concentrations comes from the gers’ stoves followed by windblown dust (dust originates from the ger heating appliances, the desert, the dry ground conditions, and the ash ponds emanating from the power plants), combustion residues, road dust and the congested road traffic (it’s too cold to walk and many cars are of a substandard quality), the dry ground condition and industry.
A total of 13 flights were delayed or canceled last December due to heavy air pollution in Mongolia’s smog-filled capital, a 160 percent increase compared with the same period last year, according to statistics provided by Air China, whose flights were disrupted for six days in December.
Ulaanbaatar and its airport are located in a basin surrounded by mountains, so the smoke is blocked by the mountains and cannot dissipate. Wind is also very rare during winter time, which worsens air pollution.
In recent years, more and more people from rural areas have rushed into the capital seeking better lives, making the city increasingly crowded. According to experts’ estimations, Ulaanbaatar’s population increased from around 350,000 inhabitants in 1991 to around 1.2 million in 2011, and unfortunately the city’s infrastructure has not been able to keep up with the growth.