Fri, Mar 15, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Toxic air tears apart Mongolians

UNINHABITABLE:Children are particularly vulnerable to pollution, meaning many have to live with relatives while their parents work in the capital, Ulaanbataar

AFP, BORNUUR, Mongolia

Buyan-Ulzii Badamkhand and her husband need to stay in capital for work, but they have decided to send their two-year-old son Temuulen more than 1,000km away.

The 35-year-old mother of three struggled with the decision, even moving from one ger district to another in the hope her son’s health would improve.

However, successive bouts of illness, including bronchitis that lasted a whole year, finally convinced Badamkhand to send her son to his grandparents.

Hours after he arrived, she called her mother-in-law to discuss her son’s medicines.

“But my mother-in-law asked me: ‘Does he still need medicine? He is not coughing anymore,’” she said.

“I tell myself that it does not matter that I miss him and who raises him, as long as he is healthy, I am content,” Badamkhand said.

Respiratory problems are the most obvious effect of air pollution, but research suggests dirty air can also put children at greater risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.

The WHO also links it to leukaemia and behavioral disorders.

When air pollution peaks in winter, Ulaanbaatar’s playgrounds empty and those who are able to are increasingly traveling abroad to wait out the smog.

In desperation, Luvsangombo Chinchuluun, a civil society activist, borrowed money to take her granddaughter to Thailand for the whole of January.

“We cannot let her play outside [in Ulaanbaatar] because of the air pollution, so we decided to leave,” she said.

The persistent smog has caused tensions in the city, with those living in wealthier areas blaming the ger residents for the pollution and even calling for the tent districts to be cleared, but the ger residents say coal is all they can afford.

“People come to the capital because they need sustainable income,” said Dorjdagva Adiyasuren, a 54-year-old mother of six.

“It’s not their fault,” she added.

In a bid to tackle the problem, the local government banned domestic migration in 2017, and a ban on burning coal comes into force from May.

However, it is unclear whether the moves will be enough to make a difference.

For Naranchimeg, the problems are serious enough to make her consider whether she wants more children.

“Now, I am terribly afraid of to give birth again. It is risky to carry a child and what will happen to the child after it is born in this amount of pollution?” she said.

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