The World Health Organization (WHO) last week released a set of long-, medium- and short-term recommendations for the Government of Mongolia to tackle air pollution.
It is also urging the Government to keep air pollution as a top priority for policies and implementation throughout the year.
The use of biomass (such as raw coal) to heat traditional dwellings in and on the outskirts of the capital Ulaanbaatar makes it one of the most polluted capitals in the world in the winter, when average levels of superfine particulate matter (PM2.5) skyrocket to between eight and 14 times WHO guidelines values.
In the short term, WHO recommends a ban on burning plastic, tires, vinyl and other waste as fuel and implementing sustainable support schemes to help low-income groups adopt affordable cleaner technology.
In addition, it recommends improving indoor air quality by banning smoking indoors, improving ventilation in traditional dwellings (gers) and other homes, and controlling the use of solid fuels for heating while introducing better insulation to bring down heating needs.
It also highlights the need to increase public awareness of the reasons for substituting solid fuel for processed fuel, then clean fuels.
Medium- to long-term recommendations
Around 10 per cent of Mongolia’s air pollution comes from motor vehicle traffic in Ulaanbaatar. To combat this, WHO advises implementing measures to prevent traffic congestion and reduce the need for motorized transport.
These include creating green areas and re-locating offices and commercial spaces to places that are convenient for pedestrians and cyclists. Integrating environmental and health considerations in urban planning requires long-term multi-sectoral coordination.
As a medium-term intervention, WHO recommends more stringent national standards for outdoor air quality to bring air pollution concentrations in line with WHO’s Air Quality Guidelines. Concrete steps include introducing better solid waste management, paving roads in the Ger areas of the capital, and joining the WHO and UN Environment-led BreatheLife campaign to increase public awareness and action on air pollution.
Air pollution causes more than 4000 deaths every year in this Central Asian lower-middle income country with a population of 3 million. In 2012, one out of nine deaths in Mongolia was the result of air pollution-related diseases. More than half of child deaths from pneumonia in Mongolia are due to indoor air pollution. Indoor and outdoor air pollution together account for 132 deaths per 100,000 people per year, compared to the global average of 92 deaths per 100,000 people.
But there’s good news. Data from the Mongolian National Agency for Meteorology and Environment Monitoring indicates that air quality in Ulaanbaatar improved from 2011 to 2015. However, the annual mean concentration of superfine particulate matter, PM2.5, in the air in Ulaanbaatar remains six to 10 times higher than that recommended by WHO air quality guidelines.
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