Ulaanbaatar in wintertime is famous for being the coldest capital city in the world; it is also one of the most polluted. The acrid smog is thickest when people living in the ger (yurt) district shanty towns prepare their evening meals and when they light the stoves in the mornings. About 202 thousand households in the ger districts of Ulaanbaatar burn 1.1 million tons of raw coal each winter, which produce around 80 percent of the smog which envelopes the Mongolian capital and fills the hospitals to overflowing.
For years the government and the UB city administration has been trying to fight the problem. Short of reallocating the ger-districts, which has been attempted, the government has banned the burning of low-grade in households in Ulaanbaatar from 15 May.
The government’s planned ecological ‘revolution’, consists of replacing the poor-quality coal with 600-700 thousand tonnes of briquettes, thereby drastically decreasing air pollution. The briquettes are made from coal dust by the country’s most famous coal mine, Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi, and will be sold at the same price as the raw coal currently used.
There are some questions as to whether the maths will add up. There are some claims that the briquettes do not produce the same amount of heat per Tugrik as the conventional coal. In a land where the winter temperature can plunge to below -40 deg C, being able to keep warm is literally a matter of life and death. Doubtless, during the summer, careful preparations will have to be made.
The briquettes will be available at 107 sites in Ulaanbaatar city at MNT 150 thousand per tonne. According to one source, the briquettes will be sold by ration cards with quotas up to six tonnes per person. In order to enforce UB’s ecological revolution, 58 police officers will control the transportation of the low-grade coal into the capital.