The population of Ulaanbaatar hit nearly 1.4 million last December, which is almost half the total population of Mongolia.
Ulaanbaatar’s population density nearly doubled over the last 17 years. The population density was recorded at 162 persons per square kilometer in 2000. This figure reached 297 in 2016. With a fast growing population, an array of problems - severe air pollution and traffic congestion - are arising at the capital.
Chairman of the Ulaanbaatar City Council (UCC) Ts.Sandui spoke about plans for addressing these issues in the interview below.
People say that the smog in Ulaanbaatar has reached a disaster level. What is the city administration doing to reduce air pollution?
Ulaanbaatar residents raise air pollution and smog issues every winter. Right now, our main focus is on finding solutions to reduce smog. The National Security Council met last January and accepted that the smog level has reached a disaster level. Instructions have been given to resolve this issue through a progressive course of action and a comprehensive policy, which will not end in just a year or one winter.
Residents have been encouraged to join this effort so that we can fight air pollution together. Last week, the UCC reviewed measures taken in the past 10 years to reduce air pollution. It was specified in the Ulaanbaatar Mayor’s Action Plan that smog will be reduced by 10 percent every year, and by 2020, air pollution in the capital will be reduced by 30 to 40 percent.
A three-month plan targeted to improve air and environmental pollutions was approved just recently by the UCC. This is a very detailed plan instructing to enforce a special operational regime during the peak smog season. Air pollution reduction measures have been organized, and during the first three months, air purifiers and filters will be installed at kindergartens and schools with assistance from the World Bank. Masks are being distributed. Long-term programs will be constantly implemented even during warm seasons.
For over 10 years, Mongolia carried out countless projects to improve air quality, but there hasn’t been much improvement. What’s your opinion on these projects? Do you view them as failures?
To this day, we haven’t had a comprehensive policy or strategy to combat smog. The short-term periodic measures we took weren’t able to show as much result as we’d hoped. In fact, the air and environmental pollution levels increased and reached disastrous levels despite all the money we’ve spent on this issue. We must find the best and most accurate solution for this. We’re trying to bring in modern methodologies to some of our old approaches and carry them out under a unified management. Not only the state but every individual and enterprise should help fight air pollution. For starters, people living in ger districts need to choose what they burn for heat more carefully. Like so, everyone should think of how they can contribute to anti-smog efforts, as well as be more supportive of government activities and actively participate in them. We need to work together.
Traffic congestion is another major problem in Ulaanbaatar. What kind of policy are you enforcing to moderate congestion?
I believe that Ulaanbaatar is facing seven kinds of challenges and that we need to find a comprehensive solution for all of them. We can make a significant improvement in cutting down pollution from cars and trucks by first reducing the number of old cars in the city. We will start restricting the use of cars with right-hand steering, those with a diesel engine and vehicles used for more than 15 years. We will give people a certain period of time to change their cars so that we don’t put too much pressure on them.
Reducing the number of cars will not only moderate traffic congestion but also cut air pollution caused by cars. We’re at a time when we have no choice but to make bold decisions to further develop the capital. This starts from limiting rural to urban migration.
...everyone should think of how they can contribute to anti-smog efforts, as well as be more supportive of government activities and actively participate in them. We need to work together...
Several Members of Parliament declared that the only option we have now is to relocate the capital. What’s your opinion on moving the capital?
There’s a need to improve Ulaanbaatar’s legal system. Hence, the UCC plans to concentrate on jurisdiction and the legal environment, which is the foundation of the development of Ulaanbaatar. It’s possible to change the capital to another city, but Ulaanbaatar will not be moved. It will stay exactly where it is now. Along with the legal system, we must provide opportunities to improve the independency of Ulaanbaatar so that it can expand and develop.
There have been some suggestions to create satellite cities to develop the capital. What kind of policy is being carried out for the city structure and infrastructure?
Strategies to build satellite cities and develop remote districts have been included in the Ulaanbaatar Mayor’s Action Plan. We’re following that strategy and focusing on developing a satellite city. In the future, there will be an agglomeration of Ulaanbaatar and its satellite cities and towns. They will all develop while supporting one another.
There have been many complaints regarding recent projects to relocate or close unauthorized Kiosk shops. The public condemned the city administration for failing to pay attention to increasing jobs and taking away people’s source of income. Can you comment on this?
Food security in the city is the first priority. The work to close Kiosk shops that are unauthorized or don’t meet sanitary requirements was put into operation. Locations of Kiosk shops were organized as part of the Khashaa project between 2008 and 2012, but the number of unauthorized shops suddenly jumped two years ago. Measures to close unauthorized shops will continue. There’s also a policy to remove all Kiosk shops along the main road and restrict anyone trying to open new ones. Even so, we’re relocating these shops so that the owners still have work and can maintain their livelihood.
Is it true that the Ger District Re-development project, initiated to house families, is at a standstill?
The Housing Program for families living in ger districts was discussed since 2005, and it was approved later in 2008. The foundation was laid when T.Bilegt served as the Chairman of the UCC. The program, aimed to construct apartments on lands occupied by ger districts, has been carried out in the form of redevelopment and re-planning during the last four years.
This program will resume. Failures and shortcomings found during the re-development will be fixed. Many people lost their land and became homeless because the fate of the ger district re-development project was left in the hands of land owners and companies. I admit that the policy failed when the city administration tried to move people living in ger districts to another apartment, build a new apartment on their land, and then have them move there. The city administration was supposed to guarantee their apartment order. We will work on said failures and mistakes, and carry out the housing plan once again.
Why did the online allocation of land stop? What is the UCC doing to encourage people to participate in land privatization?
The Law on Allocation of Land to Mongolian Citizens for Ownership was passed in 2003 and has been implemented to date. Step-by-step measures have been taken, such as buying land of families in ger districts and allocating land in new residential areas. Online allocation of land must be carried out correctly. Lands were distributed regardless of mountains or hills on the land. For instance, when you actually go to see the land, it happens that it’s impossible to live in because the infrastructure is under-developed and there aren’t any roads. As this wasn’t working, we stopped online land allocation.
A directive was issued to determine the exact size of Ulaanbaatar and restrict further expansion. In accordance with the directive, the land allocation will be continued in the future based on available land resources. If it’s deemed necessary to expand the city through the city development strategy, we can increase residential areas again.
...I admit that the policy failed when the city administration tried to move people living in ger districts to another apartment, build a new apartment on their land, and then have them move there. The city administration was supposed to guarantee their apartment order. We will work on said failures and mistakes, and carry out the housing plan once again...
People protest that the “glass account for transparency” has shattered as perfectly good projects and programs have been halted. What are you doing to ensure continuity of state policies and projects?
The UCC discloses everything related to finances through its glass account. We’ve already made statements about political activities of some officials. The state policy continuity will be maintained, but errors and shortcomings will be fixed.
There have been talks about making Ulaanbaatar a cultural and tourism hotspot of the Northeast Asia. Can you elaborate on this?
A working group was formed and plans are being developed. Everything will become transparent when the working group submits the plan to the UCC. I expect this to happen quite soon.
Will any large development project kick off this spring?
There’s a lot of need for construction and development work. However, we lack adequate financial sources and investment. The city isn’t doing well financially. We’re looking for new financial sources. The concessional loan list will be approved shortly.
The issue of lack of schools and kindergartens in Ulaanbaatar will be resolved within the next four years. We plan to do many things for the public, starting from improving initial health assessment and diagnostics.