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The winter is coming and the fear is rising

Lakshmi Boojoo, Director of EPCRC, discusses the air quality in Ulaanbaatar city and its provincial centers

By Lakshmi Boojoo Member · 14th September, 2022
Mongolia City Pollution
Ulaanbaatar city skyline - photo by duku. photography on Unsplash

There have been a lot of studies, articles, and news about air pollution, and it seems like everyone should be used to it. However, the air pollution in Ulaanbaatar city, the capital city of Mongolia, and even in the provincial centers is still alive in the winter in the midst of smoke and dust.

Everyone knows enough about the harmful effects of air pollution on human health, and the public and private sectors spend a lot of money and implement projects to reduce it, some are effective and some are ineffective.

After all, spending money and time - fighting air pollution - we have not yet reached a normal level that is not harmful to human health.

Why can we not reduce air pollution substantially? Has the air quality improved?

Air quality tolerance standard

Mongolia measures air quality according to the MNS4585:2016 standard. In the case of Ulaanbaatar city, air pollution is 1.4-3 times higher than the tolerance level from October to April of the following year, due to the beginning of the winter season, along with the fuel consumption of households in the neighborhood and the start of heating plants. There are 6 main chemical pollutants that cause air pollution, see the table for each pollutant.

Table 1: Air quality general technical requirements (MNS4585:2016)

Air quality Table 1
Source: Authors comparing national standard and www.tsag-agaar.mn

In the winter season, families in the Ger neighborhood of Ulaanbaatar used to burn raw coal, but from May 2019 the Government of Mongolia prohibited it and they started using briquettes [1]. By using briquettes, the concentration of air pollutants has decreased. However, since 2019, the amount of sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air has increased sharply. See the graphs below for more details.

Graphic 1: Air quality in Ulaanbaatar city (monthly) and Graphic 2: Air quality in Ulaanbaatar (yearly)

Air quality Final
Source: www.tsag-agaar.gov.mn

It seems that the air pollution between 2011-2021 in Ulaanbaatar decreased. However, while particle matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide are decreasing, the amount of sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air is increasing. For sulfur gas, the annual tolerance is 20 mg/m3, but for Ulaanbaatar, it is 66 mg/m3, which is 3 times higher than the tolerance.

Health

As of 2021, 1.6 million people live in Ulaanbaatar. In winter, they all live more or less with the terrible air mentioned in the above figures. Air pollution is considered another major source of diseases such as stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. Therefore, it accounts for more than 50% of the causes of death.

Table 2: The main causes of death in the population:

Air quality Table 2
Source: NSO

The respiratory diseases in Ulaanbaatar increased rapidly and “pneumonia is the second leading cause for under-five child mortality.” [2] As UNICEF pointed out in 2019 “Mongolia’s air pollution is a child health crisis”. Starting with the winter and increasing air pollution many mothers have to stay at home and look after their sick children, which impacts also their household income.

There are many problems, starting with the life and health of the population, as well as the money to spend on health and tackling air pollution. Everybody is aware that air pollution must be solved not through short- term solutions and not only when the cold season arises.


Lakshmi Boojoo is the Director of Economic Policy and Competitiveness Research Center

Footnotes

1

Түүхий нүүрс хэрэглэхийг хориглох тухай, ЗГ-ийн тогтоол, дугаар 62

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