The Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar is the world’s most polluted.
People often overlook Ulaanbaatar, not knowing where or what it is, but its environmental crisis is one that cannot be ignored. As Mongolia’s capital and largest city, Ulaanbaatar — or Ulan Bator — is home to more than 1.31 million people, making up nearly half of the nation’s total population. Beijing, the Chinese capital that is known for its smog, has 21.5 million residents. Despite Beijing’s exceedingly larger population, Ulaanbaatar tops the list as the world’s most polluted capital city.
Ulaanbaatar’s average annual temperature is approximately 30 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the coldest capital in the world, contributing greatly to why it is the most heavily polluted. Raw coal and garbage are used to heat homes, filling each chimney in the city with massive amounts of smoke. Up to 1.3 tons of coal, which can fill up a small truck, lasts a single family for about a month through the dead of the winter.
Mongolia is historically a land of nomadic people who live in gers (portable tents) with vast spans of land. In recent years, many of these traditional farmers have headed from rural regions to the capital in hopes of job opportunities. Around 20% have migrated to Ulaanbaatar, imposing not only infrastructure challenges, but also great environmental damage. This includes approximately 70% of degraded land, unstable crop growth due to climate change and extreme fluctuations in weather conditions.
Air pollution has also resulted in a child health crisis. These risks include chronic health and birth issues, cognitive impairment, pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma.
This video by Time unveils the cloud that is hanging over Ulaanbaatar.
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