Smokescreen Over Ulaanbaatar

|Russia & Mongolia

Mongolia covers an area of 1,566,500 square km and has a population of 2.8 million. The country has four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and autumn. The weather temperature is 35 degrees Celsius in summer and minus 40 degrees Celsius in wintertime. Our country’s characteristic blue sky with clouds can be seen on most days of the year.

However, a smokescreen covers Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, between October and May every year. Over 800,000 people live in Ulaanbaatar, which is Mongolia’s largest administrative, social, cultural and industrial center. The population tends to migrate towards Ulaanbaatar, with about 100,000 people from rural areas migrating to the capital city every year.

Ulaanbaatar is situated in a low-lying basin and is surrounded by Mount Chingeltei to the north, Mount Bogd to the south, Mount Songinokhairkhan to the west and Mount Bayanzurkh to the east. Therefore, a screen of smoke and dust usually covers the city.

Ulaanbaatar is the world’s coldest capital and heating is required for almost nine months of the year.

Air pollution originates from the following sources:

  1. Stationary sources:
    • Combined heat-and-power plants (CHP) use 5 million tons of coal per year
    • Over 250 hand-operated heat-only-boilers (HOB) burn 400,000 tons of coal annually and release 10,000 tons of poisonous substances including sulfur dioxide (SO2)
  2. Emissions from vehicles and other mobile sources:
    • The number of vehicles in Ulaanbaatar has been increasing since 1990 and the transport fleet has expanded rapidly. 80% of vehicles do not meet fuel consumption or emission standards and pump 70 tons of pollutants into the atmosphere each year.
  3. Area sources:
    • Household stoves. About 140,000 households live in ger districts (ger = traditional Mongolian dwelling); in winter, each household consumes approximately 5 tons of coal and 5 cubic meters of wood, accounting for about half of the air pollution in the city
    • Burning: According to a JICA study, in 2005 Ulaanbaatar produced 552.8 tons of garbage per day, but there are no garbage processing plants. There are several waste disposal points in Ulaanbaatar, where garbage is dumped in the open, causing serious environmental problems, such as odors, fires and dust, which in turn contribute to air pollution in Ulaanbaatar.
    • Dust from the ground also contributes to air pollution.

Air pollution has become a serious problem in Ulaanbaatar and it has a strong seasonal pattern, being much worse in the winter months when SO2 and dust concentrations are many times higher than in summer.

[Translated by ERINA]