-The news about the Tuul River is out. What was the reason?
-When we talk about water issues, the first thing that comes into peoples’ minds are rivers and wells. The real problem is not lying there. Our city has been urbanized in only the last 50 years and before that Mongolia has never faced the issue of water shortage. Mongolians have used the fresh water of the Tuul River for hundreds of years without any problems until 1990. As the population of over 100 cities worldwide reached more than one million people, the issue of water usage started to be discussed everywhere. Mongolia has exactly the same problem. Yet, those foreign countries are determining their urban-planning and demography prospects based on the water supply of the area. It’s been calculated that with the current rate, the population of Mongolia will reach 3.5 million by 2030 .What’s more, the number of people that live in ger districts won’t decrease at all. According to an estimation determined in 1980 further confirmed by research of JAIKA in 1990, we are allowed to use a maximum of 220000m2 of water from the river basin of Tuul. However, over 160000m2of fresh water is being used by ger districts, apartments and offices in Ulaanbaatar through the Water and Canal Utilization Authority of Mongolia (WCUAM) now. In addition, while power plants use 40000m2 of fresh water, 25000m2 of water is being used from more than 2000 wells. This means that we have already overused the water amount determined by 1980 estimations.
-Will there be any water shortage problem when building massive apartments?
-Today Mongolians are planning to build apartments for 100,000 families. The plan itself might be of great significance, but firstly they must calculate if the water supply would be enough for them. If we estimate that one family consists of an average of four members, according to the research of National Statistical Office of Mongolia, over 400 thousand people will live in those apartments once they are built. And if they use 200 liters a day, it would be 800 thousand liters of water. This amount per day is the maximum possible amount of our whole city’s water usage. As we calculated, Khui Doloon Khudag has a water reserve of 40,000m2, while 25,000m2of fresh water can be used from Gatsuurt according tothe project of WCUAM. So only 60,000m2of fresh water is ready to be used. People think that Oyu Tolgoi will bring a lot of wealth. But it will use 50% of the local water reserve. But currently the water reserves of Ulaanbaatar have already been overused. Consequently, the Tuul River has been disappearing temporarily for seven years. This temporary disappearance used to occur from April 9-20 every year, but this year it lasted until April 30. The level of river water was very high when it started flowing again. With precipitation added, soil pollution was also increased.
-How bad is water pollution in Ulaanbaatar?
-Soil pollution got out of hand.Examining wells at ger districts, it has been shown that pollution has increased gradually day by day. Besides that, toilets of ger districts are polluting soil too much. There was an estimation which claimed there were over 200 thousand toilets, but after our research more than 280 thousand toilets were counted.If we divide them within the area which is occupied by residents, there’s one toilet for every 100m. Those toilets pollute the soil and water within the area of 6-250m depending on the location.
The main purifier of soil is water. When it rains, the rain water gets mixed with the dirty soil then flows into Selbe or Tuul Rivers. Once, the River Uliastai was impossible to wade through with a horse. We used to swim in the Selbe. There was a river named Tolgoit too. But now, the Selbe River is barely flowing through our city. All of a sudden, people are concerned about the Tuul River as if they have come to their senses just now.
-Isn’t it time to reveal and publicize the silent danger we are facing?
-This disaster started 20 years ago when the government built hospitals and schools in ger districts as a matter of welfare. Though it looks beneficial as if public services have been made closer to residents of ger districts, in the nutshell it caused a permanent dirty area. In other countries, the very first step to set up a village, town or city is to plan the water system. For example, in Inner Mongolia, officials firstly place sewers underground and build pavement upon them. Then they locate road lights. Just after that, the construction work of city begins. But our country constructions reverse those fixed procedures. Today people just construct buildings without much consistency in water system which causes huge upcoming conflicts. So, Ulaanbaatar developing properly will be almost impossible. If everything proceeds as is we won’t be able to rescue the Tuul River from pollution. In Ulaanbaatar, which was originally built for a population of around 600,000 people, two times the expected number of people are living here currently. Due to tight density of population, only 75% of raw sewage is being purified and the rest is being dumped into the Tuul directly which pollutes it intensely. Therefore, the first thing we must do is focus on future city planning.
Two thirds of Ulaanbaatar’s population lives in ger districts. Yet, they use only three per cents of city water. Big cities, such as Mexico City which has a population of 16 million people has already established a few satellite towns surrounding it. Though a discussion on erecting satellite towns for Ulaanbaatar city started in the 1970s, nothing has been done to implement it. If we construct more towns near Ulaanbaatar, people can be provided with water from underground fresh water within the located areas.
-We have talked about the water shortage problem in Ulaanbaatar quite a lot. But how do we resolve this issue?
-We have established protected areas of the Selbe and Tuul Rivers. Also we have submitted a proposal to allow construction of buildings only 200m away from the Selbe River. But local authorities are granting illegal permissions. For instance, a gigantic superstore ‘Zunjin’ which covers 1200m2 area was built on swamp, hardened with gravels, only 97m away from the Selbe River bank. That superstore is ruining the Selbe. Numerous floods occurred in our city before. What if it floods in that area! There are so many reckless people that are ruining their own future all because of greed. There’s an old saying in Mongolian: ‘Stretch your leg as far as the blanket allows.’ Likewise, we must plan our city in accordance with the water reserve.
-One of the main problems which causes water shortages are auto wash stations and stores. How can we avoid this?
-The most dreadful problem in our city is inevitably a traffic congestion. As soon as a big department store opens, traffic congestion comes out all of the sudden. The reason is that the owners of store stands park their cars outside the stores. It further causes public stress and anger. Yet, there are a great number of big department stores in our city. Besides that, every household in ger districts are trying to have their own well in their yard as a matter of convenience. There can only be one well in each street. But trying to dig well in every yard is out of the question. It is causing a great loss in our water reserves. Something must be done.