Sat, Oct 26, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Mongolian stoves fuel deadly smog

Mongolia’s capital is the coldest in the world — and in its tented slums, pollution from traditional heating is a killer. However, change is on the way

By Tania Branigan  /  The Guardian

The scale of demand is daunting and the quality of new buildings will be as important as the quality. Much of the city’s housing dates from the Soviet era: It lacks double glazing and in many cases has just 5mm of basic polystyrene insulation on the concrete walls, said Graham McDarby of Gradon Architecture, a British firm now working on flats in the city.

Raising current building standards to European levels could dramatically improve energy efficiency.

“If you’ve got quality insulation and it’s air-tight, the family in there will generate enough heat,” he said.

The country also has its first wind farm, not far from the capital. There are ambitious plans for a new subway system, which should help cut traffic pollution.

However, the ultimate problem was that there were simply too many people in the capital: Its size has tripled since 1979 and it has over a third of the country’s population, Galimbyek said.

It is where all the universities are located, and much of Mongolia’s employment.

To make Ulan Bator a healthier place, it has to stop mushrooming, which means that rural areas have to be developed instead, he said..

That might sound like a radical prescription, but drastic changes are needed.

“For years we thought the effects of air pollution fell on a straight line: If you reduced it by 10 units, it didn’t matter whether you were at the higher or lower end. What we seem to be learning more recently is that it is a curve, not a straight line, and actually you get the biggest bang for your buck in lower [pollution] conditions,” Allen said. “In a city like Ulan Bator you would actually need to have quite a dramatic reduction in air pollution before you started to see really good improvements in public health.”

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