The World Bank reinforced these findings in an independent study on urban pollution levels.
Walking down the street in Ulaanbaatar is an experience based on contrast. The vibrancy of the capital hums in the summer months but the dusty smog filled air serves to distract and decrease from the appreciation that could be felt for this unique place. Pollution and cities have a tendency to go hand in hand but Ulaanbaatar needs to address the growing problem of pollution for the sake of its inhabitants and a number of key industries.
The annual average particulate matter concentrations in the Mongolian capital sit dangerously higher than the WHO recommended level. The rate of pollution on average throughout the year also sits significantly higher than that specified in the Mongolian Air Quality Standards Mandate. These levels are recorded as decidedly elevated in the winter months when the population of Mongolians living in traditional dwellings burn raw coal to stave off the cold.
The WHO report identifies the main generator of pollution in the country to be the combustion of coal for heating or cooking but also acknowledges that increasing industrial activities are having a growing impact on the environment. The mountains that border Ulaanbaatar compound the problem creating a basin effect as they essentially trap the pollution within the geographical confines of the capital.
This high concentration of airborne pollution has been linked to very high incidences of respiratory and cardiovascular disease among the urban population. Chronic Bronchitis, bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia are cited as the main ailments and are rampant through the city during the winter months. The situation has now progressed to the point where the Public Health Institute has formally identified respiratory diseases as being among the five leading causes of death for adults nationwide.
The image that foreigners associate with the land of Mongolia is that of rolling mountains, sweeping grasslands and stony steppes. For this draw card to remain intact for the people of Mongolia, the country needs to remove itself from the lists of the world’s worst polluters.
Steps are being taken to combat the rife pollution but change is seemingly slow off the mark. In response to the increasing issue, a number of international organizations that include the Millennium Challenge Corp and the Asian Development Bank have formed a partnership with the Mongolian Government in an effort to combat the rising pollution levels. With the support of the World Bank, the government has also mobilized the equivalent of around 45 million US dollars in donor assistance funds to be utilized in an effort to increase the air quality in the capital.
This will help but more still needs to be done if Mongolia wants to breathe a bit easier.
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