Mongolia announced Monday that it would spend 75.2 billion Mongolian tugriks (28.5 million U.S. dollars) in 2019 to improve air quality in its capital Ulaanbaatar.
The sum is over four times the country’s average annual public spending on air pollution: in the decade from 2008 to 2018, a total of MNT 170 billion was allocated from the state budget for air pollution reduction measures, according to the Mongolian News Agency, an average of MNT 17 billion (about US$6.5 million) a year.
The MNT 170 million was joined by foreign loans and aid totalling US$ 104.7 million in the same time period.
The announcement, made by Minister of Environment and Tourism Namsrai Tserenbat, came almost immediately after a General Inquiry Hearing on Air Pollution (in Mongolian), which delivered a number of searing conclusions on the performance of institutions and officials in charge of implementing policy, decisions, and regulations on air pollution reduction in the country.
President Khaltmaagiin Battulga attended the hearing, his Civil Society and Human Rights Policy Advisor later delivering a speech on his behalf.
“For more than a decade, Mongolia has fought in vain against the challenge of air pollution and smog which has poisoned all residents of the capital city and provincial capitals and inflicted irremediable damage on their health, while seriously violating the fundamental rights of Mongolians to a safe and healthy living environment, and the problem escalates every year,” it read, according to the Mongolian News Agency.
“Despite the continuous air pollution reduction dialogues and heavy paperwork for many years, nothing has been accomplished. A huge sum of money has been wasted…[…] In spite of producing a number of documents, including the New Infrastructure Development Medium-Term Program, the Law on Development Policy and Planning, the Law on Air, the Law on Air Pollution Charges, the National Air and Environmental Pollution Reduction Program, resolutions and regulations adopted by the Parliament and the Cabinet, and a recommendation by the National Security Council, setting up a number of funds and working groups, and financing them with loans, we didn’t see any tangible outcome, yet the situation has deteriorated,” it read.
It’s a finding echoed by the World Bank, which observes that despite average levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) dropping steadily in Ulaanbaatar between 2011 and 2015, they remained the same or began to worsen again from 2015 “due to a lack of regulations and enforcement of clean stoves and boilers, coupled with the continued population increase in ger areas”.
Ger districts are informal settlements whose populations run into the tens of thousands and live in traditional nomadic tent households.
Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar battles severe air pollution in its long winters, where harsh conditions– including temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius– lead tens of thousands of households to burn raw coal to heat their homes, which eats up 40 percent of household income.
New efforts to make progress include a ban on this low-grade coal for domestic use in the capital, which starts on 15 May 2019, and which will see low-grade coal replaced with processed fuel, a switch that may even see cost savings.
“We estimate that providing processed fuel for households in the capital’s ger districts would reduce air pollution in the city by at least 50 percent,” said Minister Namsrai Tserenbat.
Read more on the Inquiry: President attends General Inquiry Hearing on Air Pollution and Монгол Улсын Ерөнхийлөгч Х.Баттулга агаарын бохирдлын асуудлаарх Ерөнхий хяналтын сонсголд оролцож байр сууриа илэрхийллээ
Banner photo by didemtali/CC BY-NC 2.0