Saturday, December 24, 2016

Air Pollution Crisis in Ulaanbaatar

If you think air pollution in China has been bad, just look at Mongolia. Levels of particulate matter in the air have risen to almost 80 times the recommended safety level set by the World Health Organisation – and five times worse than Beijing during the past week’s bout with the worst smog of the year.

Mongolian power plants working overtime during the frigid winter belch plumes of soot into the atmosphere, while acrid smoke from coal fires shrouds the shantytowns of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, in a brown fog. Angry residents planned a protest, organised on social media, on Monday (Dec 26). The level of PM2.5, or fine particulate matter, in the air as measured hourly peaked at 1,985 microgrammes a cubic meter on Dec 16 in the capital’s Bayankhoshuu district, according to data posted by government website The daily average settled at 1,071 microgrammes that day. The World Health Organisation recommends PM2.5 exposure of no more than 25 micrograms over 24 hours. Mongolia’s contracting economic growth and a widening budget gap have left authorities few resources to fight the dangerous smog.

One thing the government has done is cut the nighttime electricity tariff by 50 per cent to encourage more residents to heat their homes with electric heaters instead of raw coal or other flammable material that is often toxic. On Wednesday, Defence Minister Bat-Erdene Badmaanyambuu announced that a 50-bed wing of Ulaanbaatar’s military hospital will open up for children with pneumonia, as city hospitals were filled to capacity, according to a statement on the government’s website. Public anger over the government’s handling of pollution has been growing on social media, where residents share pictures of the smog, encourage methods of protection and call on the government to do more to protect citizens. The air pollution protest next week was being organised for Sukhbaatar Square, the capital’s central plaza. A crowdfunding campaign to purchase 100 air purifiers for hospitals and schools raised almost US$1,400 (S$2,030) in four days.

A 2013 study by Canada’s Simon Fraser University concluded that 10 percent of deaths in Ulaanbaatar were related to complications from air pollution. Neither the ministers for foreign affairs nor the environment replied to requests for comment. A longer-term plan to convert areas known as ger districts, where hundreds of thousands of people live in makeshift housing including tents, into apartment complexes has been stymied by an economic crisis that has pushed the government to seek economic lifelines from partners including the International Monetary Fund and China.

Read the full article @ Today Online

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