From October to April each year, residents of the city’s sprawling ger districts generate 60 per cent of Ulaan Baatar’s air pollution, this according to World Bank data. These residential areas on the outskirts of the capital are home to an estimated 150,000 households, with most residents living in traditional Mongolian gers, also known as yurts, and single-family homes that resemble log cabins. However, they are not linked to the city’s central heating system for flats and office buildings. Thus, most families in the ger districts burn a combination of wood and coal for heating and cooking.
At this time of the year, the poorest families also burn tires, trash, and whatever else they can find, releasing large quantities of particulate matter. On average, this kind of pollution is two to ten times above Mongolian and international air quality standards.
When inhaled, these particles can settle in the lungs and respiratory tract and cause health problems. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), air pollution-related health costs account for as much as 4 per cent of Mongolia’s GDP.
At the government’s urging, several major development organisations, including the World Bank as well as foreign and local development agencies have launched a project to make new stoves available, thereby reducing fuel consumption and particulate emissions.
In the past, similar programs have met with mixed success. Some fuel-efficient stoves required specific, often expensive fuel types, subject to unreliable availability.
GTZ, the development arm of the German government, developed a new ger stove model, which can burn all types of fuel and cut emissions.
A traditional stove can use up 40 per cent of a family’s monthly income in winter, according to Xac Bank estimates. Hence, fuel efficiency means savings.
Even so, high consumer costs appear to be hindering the spread of the improved stoves, which cost 152,000 tugrik (approximately US$ 110).
“The people who are creating the mass of the pollution are [living] in poverty,” lamented Munkhbaatar Tsagaadai, a Xac Bank product officer.
Proponents of the fuel-efficient stoves are now searching for ways to improve distribution. Xac Bank maintains that its eco-loan borrowers who receive their loans and buy their stoves directly from bank branches save money from reduced fuel consumption, whilst re-paying the loan.
Only a few hundred families have obtained loans for the stoves, along with other eco-products, from Xac Bank since the lending program began last December.
Nevertheless, the project has access to US$ 30 million earmarked for clean energy initiatives.