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Mongolia Declares Hybrid War on Smog

Low emission cars are hugely popular, but a multi-pronged approach is required to tackle Ulaanbaatar’s pollution.

4 January 2019

If everyone in Ulaanbaatar drives a Prius, why is the air so dirty that the city is giving  thousands of residents holidays in the country this winter?


That is only the most drastic of several new measures to counter the effects of world-class smog emergencies in the winter when cold air is trapped at ground level, keeping smoke from countless stoves from escaping.


Last month the government announced a program to send children under five, their mothers, and pregnant women out of the city as a preventive measure during peak pollution season from late December to late March, Xinhua reports.


The women and children will spend five days in one of 29 health resorts and camps near the city. A preliminary government study said about 45,000 women and 65,000 children are eligible for the plan.


Many city residents live in makeshift wooden houses or traditional tents called gers and burn coal, wood, and other pollutant-laden fuels for warmth during the bitter winter season.


It is estimated that 80 percent of air pollution in the city is emitted by such stoves.


Despite a range of pollution-fighting measures aided by international organizations since the early 2000s, Ulaanbaatar has not seen a significant drop in pollution levels, Xinhua reported yesterday.


The capital has swelled with the influx of rural dwellers seeking jobs and is now home to half the country’s 3.2 million people.


View of Ulaanbaatar. Image via Bruecke-Osteuropa/Wikimedia Commons.


Air quality yesterday exceeded the safety level set by the World Health Organization by more than 20 times.


Even if not everyone drives a Prius, despite The Economist’s teasing headline, hybrid cars are a common sight in the city. Based on UN trade data, The Economist reckons that about 60 percent of imported cars last year were hybrids.


One reason is price: Used Priuses from Japan can be found for as little as $2,000, a knock-on effect of Japan’s strict vehicle testing rules which make it simpler to sell used cars in good condition than undergo expensive safety tests, The Economist says, citing the UB Post.


Owners of hybrids also enjoy exemptions from some taxes.



  • Yesterday, the Mongolian capital began rolling out a scheme to distribute processed fuel to low-income households in highly polluted neighborhoods with support from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, Xinhua reports.


  • City, region, and national officials are working on a program designed to reverse the influx of rural people. The sticking point is that jobs are harder to find outside the capital, the Guardian writes. A positive sign is that the flow of migrants has slowed, and even reversed in 2017 for the first time since the 1990s.
Compiled by Ky Krauthamer
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