Pollution is killing Selbe River

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Last weekend, Unuudur prepared a report on the Selbe River, which flow through the Ulaanbaatar. Selbe, which originates from the Khentii Mountains, is a river that has lost its natural color as it moves closer to the city center through ger areas, and has been filled with garbage. The river, which flows through the city and flows into Tuul River, was considered an important part of the city’s ecosystem, a contributor to the city’s appearance, and one of the few places where people can relax and enjoy, but is now completely polluted.

The river, which flows through residential areas, is highly polluted and filled with garbage. The river is cleaned by volunteers every spring. However, no cleanup was organized this year, mostly due to the pandemic. As a result, the true state of the river became visible to everyone.

In Zuun Ail and Dari-Ekh intersection, the Selbe River flowed poorly and there were muddy “islands” everywhere. The Capital City Department of Geodesy and Water Facilities has identified the area as a flood-prone area and placed warning signs. But the river didn’t seem to have the strength to cause flood or to keep flowing. Beverages, water bottles and plastic bags were seen everywhere in the diversion area. There were black bags of garbage on the river bank. The stench is very bad. People around the river banks said that restaurants, hotels and some other service organizations have been throwing garbage in the area for a long time. During the warm season, flies and dogs gather in the area, people said.

Around the United State Embassy in Mongolia and 11th khoroolol, the Selbe River had shrank due to the fact that half of the river was covered with mud and garbage. Shrubs, bushes and grass along the river bank became “collectors” of garbage. People said that the situation has improved since the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Zorig Foundation’s “Clean River” project installed a garbage net collector here last year. But plastic bags, paper, drinks, water bottles and cigarette butts were everywhere. Many parents were looking after their children and old people were sitting there.

The area of Tokyo Street, near the Sky Department Store, is an area with rich shrubs and bushes, so it is free from crowds. But the unsightly scene of garbage is still present. Plastic bags hung from the branches of bushs. The part of the Selbe River there seemed to be two meters wide at most. The grass on the shores of the North Center was as black as raw coal. The reason is that some people “camped out” on the river bank and lit a fire there, near residents said.

Around Arslantai Bridge, the river had narrowed dramatically and was heavily littered. Little “islands” of garbage had formed in the middle of the river. It looked dreary and sad.

Every spring, civil society organizations and volunteers clean the banks of the Selbe River. In addition, the Sukhbaatar District Mayor’s Office and Capital City Department of Geodesy and Water Facilities have been working to remove garbage from the river over the years, depending whether they had funding for it. This year, however, the work was stopped by the pandemic.

Non-governmental organizations like Mongolia Without Plastic Bags, Uukhai Mongol Neddel, Mongolian Young Monks Association, and I am a Man of the World and volunteers on Facebook initiated a cleaning of Selbe on April 10, but it was not allowed to be carried out due to the lockdown. As a result, the true appearance of the Selbe River was unveiled this spring. Citizens are beginning to notice the rate of pollution of the river.

Resident of Building No. 101 in Golden Villa N.Narantuya said, “Citizens should be active and kind, not relying on government agencies, districts and khoroos. There is staff in charge of cleaning the Selbe River. They know very well what the river looks like. They don’t do much because their work depends on the decision of the heads and the budget. Now we need to mobilize nearby residents and businesses to clean up. Our area belongs to 7th khoroo of Sukhbaatar District. Nobody wants to let their children breathe in such a filthy and muddy environment. People come here because they have no choice. The district needs to organize a joint event, or call on citizens and businesses to do a thorough cleaning before summer.”

Resident of Consul Town G.Lajuu said, “It seems that the area (around the United States Embassy) has become worse after landscaping. In the evening, young people gather a lot around here. Even though there are a lot of trash, they leave cigarette butts, beer cans, and drink bottles where they sat. Some people defecate out in the open and throw away their toilet paper. You can see that there are toilet paper and plastic bags hanging on the bushes along the river. It is important to improve control in this area. Cameras should be placed in crowded areas. The capital city and districts have to regularly patrol around the river. There is no reason not to pay attention to this because it is a matter of breathing air and drinking water.”

In the past, a number of projects and programs aimed at improving the flow of the Selbe River and landscaping were planned, and some of them have been implemented and tested. Many people raised issues related to the river and the number of projects and programs initiated, but the situation of the Selbe River hasn’t change for the better. Selbe is a real example of how unplanned work and research are lacking. If all those work was effective, a real eco-friendly environment would have been created there. In addition to visible garbage, it is completely covered in hidden pollution.

Researchers have concluded that it is not appropriate to take measures in only one area to improve the flow of the river, reduce and protect ecological degradation. Teachers of the Mongolian University of Science and Technology conducted a study in 2018 on “Current state of the Selbe River environment”. It concluded, “If the structure and volume of pollutants in the water do not exceed the self-healing capacity of natural components, the river can self-clean and regenerate. However, the level of pollution in the Selbe River has exceeded this threshold. Ulaanbaatar is divided into two types of settlements -- ger area and apartment districts. The Selbe River is not connected to centralized infrastructure and flows through the soil, pit latrines, polluted ger areas, and summer camps, causing open and hidden pollution. In the future, if the river is classified as a summer camp, ger and residential area, it will be effective for taking appropriate rehabilitation measures.”

The river has become so degraded and polluted that it cannot be rehabilitated naturally. In order to protect it, special attention should be paid to its geographical location. Otherwise, it will be useless to even remove the garbage and sludge every spring.

Children and the elderly used to play and walk along the riverbanks to relax in previous years. But these people throw away their garbage into the river and wash their cars. If this river dies out because of human activity, the city resident will lose an important ecological resource.

Enkhnaranjav Tumurbaatar