09/29/2018, 08.06
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Ulan Bator, shepherds flee pollution: 'The air is unbreathable'

They had moved to the capital to find a better life. Every winter, in hundreds of thousands of houses coal and dirt fires burn. The problem is the disparity between urban and rural areas, where there is no work. More than half of Mongol's GDP is produced only in the capital.


Ulan Bator (AsiaNews / Agencies) - From the provinces to the capital, and vice versa: Mongolian shepherds are considering the possibility of retracing their steps and moving back to the provinces. The reason: the increasingly intolerable air pollution, which gets worse as the winter season approaches.

In the past, some shepherds  moved to Ulan Bator to allow their children to study and to look for work outside of farming. The heavy pollution is making them change their mind. "Even if you only come out a second - says Darii Garam, 76 years - when you open the door your house fills with smoke, your clothes, everything takes its smell". Darii lives in the "g district", where many shepherds have moved in the last 20 years. "I wanted more for my children, but the air is unsustainable".

Every winter, 220 thousand families burn coal to keep warm. And when the fuel is too expensive for family finances, they adapt by burning tires and other dirt. For this reason, hospitals are filled every winter and thousands of children get sick. The visibility is so reduced that two people who walk hand in hand can not see each other. In January, 15 thousand protesters protested against pollution. At that time, the concentration of pm2.5 particles was 3,320 micrograms per cubic meter, a figure 133 times higher than that defined as safe by the World Health Organization.

The Mongolian capital is designed to accommodate around half a million people. At present, 1.5 million people live in Ulan Bator, almost half of the total population. The government has tried to limit immigration, but this is not enough to combat environmental pollution. For experts and locals, the clear inequality between cities and the countryside must be countered: more than half of Mongolia's GDP is produced only in the capital. The urgency is to develop the provinces and encourage job creation. In fact, a large number of shepherds would return immediately to their province of origin if they were sure they would find something to live on. In recent years the trend has already been reversed, and in 2014 for the first time the number of emigrations from the capital has exceeded immigration.

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