Ulaanbaatar, is one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world. At times - especially in winter- the capital has nearly 25 times above the levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
One of the reasons is that during the winter and to keep warm, many people -mainly those who live in yurts (traditional Central Asian houses)- use coal-fired stoves. About 60% of the population live in these traditional structures, many of which are clustered in the low-income neighbourhoods on the city outskirts that do not always have access to electricity. In addition to coal, some people also burn plastic and old tires, all of which leads to a large amount of pollution in the winter season. Moreover, the population of these neighbourhoods increase during the coldest months, when nomadic herders set up their yurts to winter in the city. I am a “Smog maker by necessity" said one Mongolian dweller.
However, the pollution caused by households is combined by the city´s thermal power pollution, the city´s factories and pollution produced by cars. This makes a toxic environment for all Mongolians living in the capital and those most vulnerable - for instance, children- pay the consequences of pollution with their health.
According to a UNICEF´s study, in 2015, 435 children under the age of five died from pneumonia in Mongolia. In sum, for the rest of the population, the three main causes of death are related to air pollution. Since 2016 urban citizen in Ulaan Bataar protest in the streets asking for more strict measures against air pollution.
The protests are organized by "Moms and Dads against smog" and NGO made up mostly by concerned parents about their children´s health. The NGO was created in early January 2017. Other organizations are the " Union of Parents Against Air Pollution" formed by journalists and public health researchers concerned about the health effects of air pollution and Booj Ukhlee (which has a double meaning, “we are suffocating” and “we are extremely frustrated”) Also, protests go beyond Mongolia, creating a worldwide network. Hundreds of Mongolians living across the world also joined the cause by using “BreatheMongolia" and "#mongolsaresuffocating" words in social media.
For protesters, the Government must acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and announce that air pollution has reached disaster level and declare a state of emergency. Secondly, it has to implement measures under the declared state of emergency, to construct new children's hospitals and to change its method of combating air pollution and implement substantial measures.
However, pollution doesn´t touch all Mongolians in the same way. People with a high income can avoid high levels of pollution by leaving the city in winter to a rural area, but poor people do not have other options. Besides impacts on children, women have been also directly affected: "When I was 30 I miscarried twice, once at 9 weeks and the second time at 12 weeks. The doctors told me that it was linked to the pollution and that is is a common occurrence here" said one of the protesters. Other symptoms are coughs, headaches, sniffles, itchy and watery eyes, and swollen throats.
Since the situation became critical, The Mongolian Government has approved MNT5 billion for the fight against air pollution in 2017. In the last 15 years, Mongolia spent MNT130 billion to decrease air pollution in Ulaanbaatar. But slow deaths by pollution and affectation to the Mongolian children still continue.