Day 26: The World’s Most Polluted Capital

What struck me most, this morning, as my driver and guide took me out of the city was the air pollution.

Ulaanbaatar is the world’s most polluted capital in the world and a number of reports by the World Health Organisation highlight a number of issues such as overpopulation, the gers’ (nomadic yurts) use of coal to heat the family home, especially in the winter. (I’ve now included links, as you may have noticed – I’m not planning to regurgitate some excellent articles on this issue).

Many families send their children to the countryside as the cold temperatures make the situation worse. The impact on children’s health is appalling.

Action is being taken by the government to address the coal burning in the stoves but will it be enforced?

I’ve read a number of reports about poor enforcement of industrial pollution regulations.

Writing this at the end of September, when the temperature reached 27°C, I doubt there were any families burning coal this morning. Except possibly for cooking.

What struck me was the fact that we passed several large power plants and factories belching out fumes.

The roads were densely packed with traffic. Nothing, other than pedestrians, moves quickly here.

These pictures don’t do the smog justice.

At 10am, across the city, the sky was pale grey. At ground level, looking across the valley (which is still within the city and full of homes) to the hills and mountains on the other side of the city, the air was black.

It was barely possible to see even the outline of the distant hills and I wondered what it was like to live in these parts of town. Is it dark?

The smog billowed like smoke.

As we passed the airport, my guide told me that the terminal is being moved as the smog is so thick, visibility is so poor that it is difficult for the planes to land.

Cars driving out of the darkest, smoggiest areas joined the traffic smothered in dust.

I’ve rarely seen anything like it.

London by the Thames can appear as if it’s shimmering in a haze. Ulaanbaatar’s haze was almost black.

In 2014, as I was driving down the M56 in Cheshire, radio traffic reports were talking about fog on the road. Visibility was poor – I could barely see through the white cloud. However, fog doesn’t usually leave dry dust.

The smog I saw in Ulaanbaatar was, I imagine, like the UK in the 1950s before the Clean Air Act. And, being familiar with Manchester’s industrial history, this morning was like seeing the “dark, satanic mills” resurrected.

Categories: Air Pollution, Public Health, TravelTags: , , , , ,
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