Air Pollution discussion focuses on past and present solutions across sectors

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By M.OYUNGEREL Representatives from multiple sectors joined the first discussion of Let’s Discuss It, a bimonthly seminar series on air pollution and other relevant issues, on January 18 at Blue Sky Hotel. The seminar was organized by the Mongolian American Student Association (MASA) and opened by Jennifer Galt, the US Ambassador to Mongolia, who expressed her gratitude to the organizers, and said, “MASA is truly the ambassadors for development, working to bring about positive change across Mongolia.” The ambassador said she was especially happy to see air pollution as the first topic of the discussion series and encouraged people to wear air filtration masks by wearing one herself. The opening was followed by a UNICEF video on air pollution’s health impacts on children. Roberto Benes, Representative for UNICEF Mongolia Office, called for behavioral change and the use of immediate no-cost solutions such as breastfeeding to decrease infant mortality. “We have to give opportunity to the newly elected officials to give their best efforts and to accelerate efforts [as] we’re seeing measures we hadn’t seen before. This is a fight that needs each and every one of us. We know what to do, so that’s a big advantage. This is the tipping point. We have to keep this debate alive even after we enter spring,” he urged. B.Tsogtbaatar, the Head of the Public Health Institute, encouraged Benes’ words, telling mothers to breastfeed in the first six months. “This is a pressing issue because the number one cause of mortality in under-five children is ambient air pollution,” he said. B.Tsogtbaataradded that banks need to help out mask and air filter producers and distributers by giving them loans. Ts.Purevkhuu, a representative from the Association of Parents Against Air Pollution, said she has seen efforts after the demonstration of 4,000 activists, but underlined that the group wanted urgent action. “One of the requests for Parliament was to hold one of their sessions at Bayankhoshuu, one of the most polluted areas in Ulaanbaatar. They haven’t responded yet,” she said. The association plans to hold their second demonstration on January 28. Director of Eco Banking Department of Xac Bank G.Tuul noted that Xac Bank outlined the strict requirements for loans as well as other funding options through the bank. She discussed “clean” stoves and the reasons it didn’t bring about the results politicians promised. G.Tuul claimed that at the moment, air pollution has decreased by 20 percent. “We had only conditioned for the stoves to burn Nalaikh coal. But Baganuur coal was brought forward, and its usage increased. Our air quality monitoring until 2014 shows that air quality has degraded since Baganuur coal burning increased,” she added. N.Boldkhuu, Head of the Fuel Policy Implementation Management Department at the Ministry of Energy, noted that Khas stoves, which cut coal usage from 3.7 tons to 1.1 tons for a single household, were given to 100,000 households. “Only 53,000 stoves remain in the city. The rest has been sent to the countryside. Citizens have exercised their rights but they didn’t fulfill their responsibilities. I am not blaming anyone here, but I don’t know whether Xac Bank had to supervise this or the City Municipalities,” he said. N.Boldkhuu added that off-the-grid households without registration try to share the grid with other households, and that his department plans to improve and expand heat distribution networks. G.Batdorj from the Little Air campaign noted that everybody has to contribute to the change. He believes the campaign, which used for fundraising, has introduced a new way of fundraising and empowering young people to take action and be a part of the help. “Abundance of information helps us move towards action and activation,” he said.

Dulguun Bayarsaikhan