World The casualties of Mongolia's doomed love affair with coal

The casualties of Mongolia’s doomed love affair with coal


All the spaces in the three-storey Songinokhairkhan healthcare facility in western Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city, arefull They are mainly inhabited by kids being dealt with for breathing issues, according to the busy nurses here.

The cause is heavy contamination, generally from the nation’s decades-long over-reliance on coal.

Children’s health centers in the location are overloaded and paediatricians can just deal with the signs of illness triggered by air contamination, they are not able to get rid of the cause. 

A young mom, Ganchimeg, awaits the fever to let up in her one-year-old child’s shiveringbody They have actually been here all the time. “She’s been coughing a lot,” states the worn out mom. “When we came here they told me it’s probably pneumonia.” Her child smiles, and after that coughs.

UNICEF stated Mongolia’s air contamination problem a “child health crisis” in a 2018 report which mentioned: “In the last 10 years, occurrences of breathing illness in Ulaanbaatar amazingly increased consisting of a 2.7-fold boost in breathing infections per 10,000 population.

“Pneumonia is now the second leading cause for under-five child mortality in the country. Children living in a highly polluted district of central Ulaanbaatar were found to have 40 percent lower lung function than children living in a rural area.”

Ganchimeg and her child, who has a high fever and will not stop shivering, at Songinokhairkhan healthcare facility, western Ulaanbaatar [Fredrik Lerneryd/Al Jazeera]

Ariunsanaa and Oyun ( Mongolians tend just to utilize one name), are a young couple living in Ulaanbaatar’s western ger district. Gers are conventional Mongolian yurts –  little wood structures in which entire households live.

Both their children – a one-year-old child and a four-year-old child – have actually been hospitalised this winter season with fever, coughing and, ultimately, pneumonia. “Same old story every winter,” states Ariunsanaa, preparing suutei tsai and biscuits inside their ger while the TELEVISION shows flickering images of a dispute far.

” It’s the very same pressure of the influenza that returns every winter season, and every year it takes its toll on the kids a lot even worse than the previous winter season.

” Medicines and prescription antibiotics aren’t complimentary, you understand,” he includes.

Behind a drape hangs Ariunsanaa’s shaman coat. Interest in Mongolian Shamanism has actually increased amongst the young, after being prohibited throughout Communist guideline. Regional individuals look for Ariunsanaa’s counsel on matters from relationships to health.

Inside the overcrowded Songinokhairkhan healthcare facility in Ulaanbaatar. All spaces of the three-storey healthcare facility are inhabited, mainly by kids with breathing issues [Fredrik Lerneryd/Al Jazeera]

The rate of success

This is not all that has actually altered here because the fall of Communism.

Democracy’s arrival in Mongolia in 1990, along with a financial boom from the nation’s abundant coal resources, brought to life a market-economy class system specified by spectacular earnings inequality.

“Despite strong overall growth, job creation and poverty alleviation remains a significant challenge,” is how the International Monetary Fund summed up the circumstance in its 2019 member-country report.

I do not wish to be pregnant once again, I’m too scared. When pregnant, both times throughout winter seasons, I was continuously scared that air contamination would lead to abnormality.


So, while medical professionals advise that individuals – specifically those with kids – leave Ulaanbaatar for fresh air, this is a high-end that couple of can manage.

“I don’t want to be pregnant again, I’m too afraid,” states Oyun. “When pregnant, both times during winters, I was constantly afraid that air pollution would lead to birth defects.”

Ariunsanaa and Oyun’s home in a working-class area of western Ulaanbaatar [Fredrik Lerneryd/Al Jazeera]

In the mid-2010 s, Mongolia, riding the wave of its mining boom, was hailed as “the world’s fastest-growing economy” by the WorldBank The global financial crisis and subsequent boom and bust in product rates dealt an extreme blow to Mongolia, sustaining anguish, hardship and joblessness.

A $5.5 bn bailout from the International Monetary Fund assisted pull Mongolia’s economy off its knees. 

In 2018 the nation produced 34.4 million tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE) of coal – arecord In general, the National Analytical Office (NSO) of Mongolia states, the mining market represents almost 22 percent of the country’s profits for 2019.

In Spite Of this, coal is not the magic bullet for Mongolia that numerous thought it to be; it is likewise a poisoned chalice. It is showing to be a “resource curse”, where a nation’s over-reliance on one or a restricted number of natural deposits – in Mongolia’s case, coal and copper – can lead to a failure to buy other sectors along with a greater threat of corruption. 

In its 2019 report, Liberty Home, the United States government-funded NGO, highlights increasing corruption levels within the mining sector in Mongolia, in spite of – or maybe due to the fact that of – “vaguely written and infrequently enforced” anticorruption laws. 

However most of all, coal is filthy and its over-use has actually set off a health and ecological crisis in Ulaanbaatar along with additional afield.

The view from Ariunsanaa and Oyun’s home in one of Ulaanbaatar’s ger districts [Fredrik Lerneryd/Al Jazeera]

‘ There were a lot of individuals ill’

On the Mongolian steppe, apparently far gotten rid of from the centre phase of the coal market, the results of this over-reliance on coal are currently striking the nation’s nomadic population hard.

The Batbold family’s ger, camouflaged by snow, sits surrounded by valleys outside Karakorum, the ancient Mongol capital established by Genghis Kahn.

There are other gers within strolling range, dotted in between enclosures for the animals and huge stacks of wood to heat these primary houses. Aside from that, these households live alone – as Mongolian wanderers have actually provided for centuries.

It is a method of life. Mongolia’s wanderers, reliant on animals and mainly contributing to the cashmere market, now look the repercussions of environment alter right in the eye, embodied by a manufactured disaster they call the “dzud”, a term for the extreme winter seasons marked by hunger, cold and financial difficulty that they now sustain every year.

Chantsaldulam and Banzragch Batbold prepare dinner for their 7 children inside the family ger on the Steppes of Mongolia. Life is ending up being hard for the family in the face of significantly extreme winter seasons [Fredrik Lerneryd/Al Jazeera]

Millions of animals have actually passed away due to the dry summertimes followed by the severe winter seasons over the past years in Mongolia, according to a 2018 report by the research study journal, Nature. 

It specifies: “Alleviating the impacts of climate change on herder communities, through strengthening adaptive capacities, risk reduction strategies, including reducing herder vulnerability to future hazards, and resilience in degraded environments, will be a crucial challenge.” 

This severe weather phenomenon is the scourge of every wanderer’s every day life. “Here, winter starts in the summer,”  states Chantsaldulam Batbold.

Here, winter season begins in the summertime.

Chantsaldulam Batbold

She is paying “tribute” to the sky, mountains and soil outside the family ger by tossing spoons of fresh cow’s milk into the air, in a kind of offering. “We thought the summer would be good; it wasn’t. There is no grass for the animals and the winter is getting harder.”

Every day, the family takes the animals – 100 cows, goats, horses and sheep – out in search of ideal pastures. “We can’t get enough hay to them due to higher prices, and even if we had, it’s not nutritious enough,” states Banzragch  Batbold as he saddles his horse.  Chantsaldulam hands him a thermos with warm suutei tsai, a conventional Mongolian drink consisting of milk, salt, tea leaves and water.

The close-by river is melted and ice-covered snow functions as drinking water. All 7 Batbold children, who vary in age from 9 months to 10 years, see their dad off and play outside up until their mom carries them back within. 3 of them, who participate in boarding school in Ulaanbaatar, returned from school with the influenza prior to Christmas – another impact of the contamination, Chantsaldulam suspects.

“There were a lot of people sick at the school, as is usually the case this time of the year,” she states.

Mongolia’s nomadic neighborhoods should fight the extreme winter season to discover pasture for their animals [Fredrik Lerneryd/Al Jazeera]

As inside any normal Mongolian ger, life is divided into areas: the kitchen location; beds; a sofa for visitors; a shrine for prized possessions, family pictures, clothes and a Television Set. The heart of the ger is the range, which offers heat throughout the extreme winter.

The temperature level can reach 30°& deg; C inside the ger while outside it gets as cold as minus 20°& deg; C(********
).(****** ).

Environment modification has actually been especially severe in Mongolia, where the typical temperature level has actually increased by 2.2°& deg; C because1940- compared to 0.85°& deg; C(******** )for the world in basic – triggering havoc with weather patterns.

According to a 2019 report from the European Institute for Asian Researches, Mongolia’s mining sector is to blame for this and, for that reason, for the resulting jeopardized biodiversity and aggravating public health. The report states: “Mining activities and mining-related infrastructure projects have, indeed, contributed to the rapid increase of CO2 emissions in the country, the vast erosion of pasture land and deforestation.”

The option for those surviving on the ground? Set up with it or go out.

“On the steppe, you’re on your own,” regrets Chantsaldulam. Numerous have actually selected the latter, heading to Ulaanbaatar’s ger districts, where thousands of former nomads-turned-city-dwellers live in a socioeconomic parallel society. 

In 2001, Ulaanbaatar’s overall population was 630,000; in 2014 it had actually reached over one million. It is now 1.6 million. One in 4 residents of Ulaanbaatar lives in what the International Monetary Fund refers to as “shanty towns” – the ger districts – and 28.4 percent of the population are living below the hardship line, according to Mongolia’s National Analytical Office.

Chantsaldulam and Banzragch understand both worlds however expensive neither; environment modification has actually changed whatever, all over.

“When you walk alongside your animals, day in and day out for many years, you realise what’s at stake,” states Banzragch. “The wheel of life is shifting on its axis.”

Children at Preschool 68 in Ulaanbaatar. The school utilizes air cleansers and ventilators, and never ever opens the windows, in a quote to keep students safe from contamination [Fredrik Lerneryd/Al Jazeera]

Severe procedures

Ulaanbaatar was called Urga (“Palace”) up until 1924, when, as the capital of the brand-new Mongolian Individuals’s Republic, it embraced its Soviet-style name, which indicates “Red Hero”.

Mountain plateaus surround the city, which worked as a Buddhist conference point in the 1700 s. Winds originate from Siberia in the north, turning the winter seasons into long, cold durations of presence under a veil of smog. At 1.6 million, the population of the city has actually trebled because1989 Ulaanbaatar’s undeveloped borders have actually swelled like balloons and these ger districts do not have sustainable access to electrical energy and tidy water, making coal – now, government-issued briquettes – the only alternative for cooking and heating.

As a result, the authorities blame Ulaanbaatar’s ger districts for 80 percent of the current years’ harmful air contamination levels which are taking their toll on locals. Children, the pregnant and senior women are specific victim for illness, infections and infections, which spread out quickly in improperly aerated centers.

A preschool called “63” in Gachuurt, eastern Ulaanbaatar, has actually taken severe procedures to safeguard its children.

“We’ve installed air purifiers, updated ventilators and keep all windows closed at all times to guarantee our 150 pupils access to fresh air and clean food,” states primary Nyamsuren Enkhtsetseg.

The view through the window on the second flooring, nevertheless, shows the preschool’s neighbour is a heating plant. Raw coal emissions from it sweep over a part of Ulaanbaatar where the restriction on raw coal has yet to be executed, requiring all children to use protective masks whenever they playoutside “We’ve begged the authorities to remove it; but nothing’s happened,” sighs Enkhtsetseg.

A female without her briquette-coupon attempts to purchase a bag at one of the circulation points in Ulaanbaatar. She will go not able and away empty-handed to heat her home [Fredrik Lerneryd/Al Jazeera]

In December 2018, the Mongolian federal government prohibited the usage of unprocessed, raw coal for domestic cooking and heating, an instruction which has actually been executed in 6 of Ulaanbaatar’s 9 düüregs (districts) up until now. The restriction will work in the rest in 2021.

Government-issued coal briquettes, which are “cleaner” than raw coal however are still allocated, supply a replacement and have actually assisted to almost cut in half the city’s air contamination levels. The briquettes, made from coal powder and coking coal from the southern Gobi area, are produced at a freshly built plant in Ulaanbaatar and cost accredited “briquette stations” throughout the capital.

Homeowners who need heating coal should show provision coupons to purchase them for $1 a bag – no coupon, no briquettes. 

At one of the circulation websites, a lady without her briquette discount coupon is attempting to purchase a bag, anyhow. The briquette suppliers shake their heads; there is absolutely nothing they can do. , if they offer to unauthorised clients they run the risk of a 30 percent income reduction..

“How am I supposed to heat our home tonight?” the lady asks, then leaves the station and turns, her 2 children attempting to maintain with her.

It is uncertain that allocating will be appreciated by everyone.  Individuals will constantly discover a method around it – specifically when the cold bites. “People are using briquettes just like the old raw coal and burning them the same way,” Byambajargal Losol, a physicist at the Mongolian Science Academy, informed AFP in November in 2015. “The briquettes are thick and compact so they require twice as much oxygen to burn, compared to raw coal.”

8 locals of Ulaanbaatar have actually suffocated to death in their sleep due to carbon monoxide gas poisoning after burning briquettes, and 1,000 individuals have actually been hospitalised with signs of queasiness and breathing troubles because October in 2015.


However the raw coal restriction signals political duty, announces Gabymbyme Haldai, head of Ulaanbaatar’& rsquo; sAir Contamination Decrease Department. “The briquette transition has halved our air pollution levels in just one winter. Now, the production capacity at the briquette plant must increase and the ban implemented in wider areas.”

Haldai sees no issues with Mongolia’& rsquo; s reliance oncoal “Coal makes Mongolia energy independent,” he specifies.

Concerns about sustainable energy financial investments appear to frustrate him. “I don’t know where you come from or what energy sources you use. Here, we experience extreme weather conditions,” Haldai states.

The restriction on raw coal, nevertheless, “will only take Mongolia so far”, states Alex Heikens, UNICEF’s Mongolia agent. “Its visible positive results might end up counterproductive. Only 90 percent decreased air pollution will make any real difference to climate and people’s health.”

8 locals of Ulaanbaatar have actually suffocated to death in their sleep due to carbon monoxide gas poisoning after burning briquettes, and 1,000 individuals have actually been hospitalised with signs of queasiness and breathing troubles because October in 2015.

Miners transport raw coal from a semi-illegal mine in Nalaikh, Mongolia. The production and need from the regional mines in Nalaikh have actually stopped by 80 percent because the restriction on raw coal [Fredrik Lerneryd/Al Jazeera]

‘ Times have actually never ever been so hard’

Federal government tries to suppress contamination – most especially by prohibiting the usage of raw coal in some locations – have actually brought brand-new difficulties to those reliant on the mining market for a living.

Darkness tips over the commercial residues of Nalaikh’s now-closed and deserted open-pit coal mine, 40 km east of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. The when state-owned mine closed down because of the fall in need for raw coal, however the coal reserves are still there. They are now transported out of narrow, small shafts run in semi-illegal style, offering intermediaries with raw coal to offer on the black market.

A dirt roadway ends at a 120 m-deep shaft here. 5 miners consume Coca-Cola and smoke cigarettes inside a ger, which has actually been raised next to the shaft. “I’ve been a miner since I was a kid,” states Khurelshagai, smiling at clips of his children on his phone. “But times have never been as hard as today.”

From the 1950 s, Nalaikh Coal was a significant regional task supplier and a crucial supplier of energy to Ulaanbaatar. It was likewise the main factor of carbon dioxide emissions and high levels of harmful, climatic particles called PM2.5  These tiny particles get in the lungs and the blood stream, and are accountable for turning Mongolia’s capital into one of the world’s most contaminated cities.

This utilized to be a location of pride. Now, it looks like a warzone.

Tserengund, coal miner

” There is actually no inexpensive option [to coal] in terms of tidy fuel,” stated Delgermaa Vanya, health and environment officer at the World Health Company in a 2019 report. “As a result, in the winter months over 600,000 tonnes of raw coal are burned for heating in the city’s approximately 200,000 gers, accounting for about 80 percent of Ulaanbaatar’s winter pollution.”

The restriction on raw coal has actually assisted Mongolia’s environmental and financial environment – however it has actually likewise reworded life in Nalaikh, where residents talk of shattered companies and a lostfuture Industrial-scale coal production is a thing of the past there, although little amounts of raw coal are still hacked and scavenged from semi-illegal, crouched shafts and offered, either to Ulaanbaatar’s staying raw-coal heating plants or on the black market.

Employees at a briquette station in Ulaanbaatar. Each bag costs $1 [Fredrik Lerneryd/Al Jazeera]

Mongolian democracy is mainly embodied as the financial liberalisation of big markets, states Tserengund, one of the miners. He is having a smoke on the slope ignoring the 120 m-deep narrow shaft. He has actually coughed, dug and stooped his method through narrow shafts for 20 years to attend to his partner and child. His only benefit will be a damagedbody “The boss can’t pay me; I just get daily coal rations for heating and cooking. But I have no other choice, we don’t want to freeze to death.”

Night temperature levels fall near minus 30°& deg; C. Nalaikh’s last coal miners capture their breath upon the slope; they have the air of guardians of a lost commercial kingdom. Tserengund takes a look around, seeing more than simply the stacks of gravel, particles and a quiet commercial no-man’s land.

“This used to be a place of pride,” he regrets. “Both my grandparents and parents worked here. In the summers, cows pastured in the surrounding hills. Back then, the place was green.”

“Now,” he sighs, “It looks like a war zone.”

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