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“Addressing Urbanization and Innovation in Ulaanbaatar: Finding Solutions” – The Diplomat

Mongolia’s capital city is Ulaanbaatar, and it is growing rapidly. The influx of nomadic families to the outskirts of the city is straining its fragile infrastructure. The lack of medical resources, high levels of pollution, and food insecurity pose a threat to all residents, especially young children and pregnant women.

Since 1990, the number of people living in urban areas in Mongolia has increased from 58 percent to nearly 70 percent. This number continues to grow as nomadic herders relocate to ger areas – recently settled areas in the hills and mountains surrounding Ulaanbaatar. These areas lack essential resources like plumbing, electricity, and access to clean water and healthy food. Many residents choose to live in ger areas because of the promise of educational and career opportunities.

GerHub, a nonprofit, works closely with residents of the fastest growing ger district in Ulaanbaatar, Songinokhairkhan. They have established the Ger Innovation Hub, a community center designed to bridge the infrastructural gaps faced by local residents. The architecture utilizes modern materials and is engineered to maximize energy efficiency by trapping heat within the walls.

Approximately half of Ulaanbaatar residents live in traditional gers – structures made of organic materials like wood and thick fabric. The Innovation Hub borrows structural elements of the ger design but substitutes cloth for polycarbonate sheets that can expand and contract in extreme temperatures without breaking.

The Ger Innovation Hub aims to provide essential resources to a community that lacks electricity, sanitation, plumbing, schools, and play spaces for children. It also seeks to facilitate education and community building activities to foster a sense of unity among residents.

Sambuu Urtnasan, a resident of Songinokhairkhan District, has lived in the area for over 25 years and highlights the challenges presented by air pollution, especially during the winter months when Ulaanbaatar is ranked as one of the most polluted cities on the planet. The pollution is particularly concentrated in ger districts where residents burn coal to stay warm.

UNICEF has been leading efforts to study pollution in urban centers around Mongolia and has worked with the government to develop economic policies that incentivize investing in the transition from coal to green energy in households. UNICEF’s Cooking, Heating and Insulations Products (CHIP) package is designed to provide green loans and insulation products to reduce heat loss in gers, thus reducing coal use by approximately four tons of coal per year for each household.

Food insecurity is also a significant issue in Ulaanbaatar, with 68 percent of households facing food insecurity. Those living in ger districts face the greatest barriers to food security, including higher rates of unemployment, lower income, lack of available resources, and limited transportation options.

Meat, dairy products, and animal fats are staples of a traditional diet among nomadic herders, but urban ger settlements offer little space for animals to graze. This presents a challenge for herders who rely on their animals for sustenance.


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