A Mongolian Ger or Yurt is a circular dwelling consists of a wooden frame and felt cover. It has been a common style of housing in Central Asia for three thousand years, especially in Mongolia. Due to its practicality, reliability, and functional & unique features, Gers are still being used today all around Mongolia. They are also used by most people residing within the Ger District of Ulaanbaatar.
The Ger district lies on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar and is home to upwards of 60% of the capital city’s population. Migration to Ulaanbaatar has increased the population by 55% over the past fifteen years. Today, more than half of residents, over 800,000 people live in ger districts that mainly burn coal and wood to stay warm, intensifying air pollution. This is one of the primary reasons why Mongolia is one of the most polluted cities in the world.
In the Ger District, there are two main dwelling types: gers and houses. Houses are generally built from bricks and woods. Different households are separated from each other with a fence called hashaa. Even though most residents in the Ger District enjoy living there, there are many challenges posed by the living conditions.
What Are the Main Issues in the Ger Districts?
Aforementioned, pollution is indeed a threatening issue that harms not only residents of Ger District but also Ulaanbaatar city as a whole. In addition, the districts have very limited access to utilities and infrastructure. More than 80 percent of households depend on coal or wood-burning stoves for warmth. It is the primary source of pollution, especially during winter.
Along with the air pollution, there is also soil and water pollution. It is mostly related to infrequent and ineffective waste removal. Transportation is another problem. Due to hasty urban planning, there is no paved road or highway. Therefore, public transportation does not reach Ger districts, making it harder for the residents to go to school or work.
A Myriad of people moves to Ulaanbaatar every year for various reasons. Therefore, the key issue posed by this internal migration is overpopulation in the city. Apartment price increase along with traffic jams. Living in the Ger district is not as expensive as living in the city center, so a lot of people who come from rural areas prefer living in the Ger district.
As the urban and rural differences grow, inequality grows as well. That is why it’s crucial to address these issues early on. There is indeed no quick solution. The Government has been discussing re-planning of the Ger district as well as implementing the use of improved coal, such as semi-coke briquettes, and has banned the use of raw coal beginning in 2019.
For the short term, increasing the awareness of the residents is important. The residents should choose low-emission, clean stoves instead of traditional stoves. The World Bank also mentioned that electric heating – including electric thermal storage (ETS) heaters, heat pumps, and other renewable energy applications – must also be part of the longer-term solution.
There are several programs implemented with the help of international organizations as well. For instance, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have offered aid to the Mongolian government with financing and infrastructure. World Bank’s Ulaanbaatar Clean Air Project is another example. The project provided home insulation and almost 200,000 energy-efficient stoves to the capital’s ger districts. They all have been effective measures in tackling air pollution, housing deficit, lack of infrastructure, etc, but air pollution is on the rise again.
Life in the Ger District
Despite the challenges and problems, the Ger District is home to many elders, young people, and children. Most residents are optimistic about further infrastructure development, a clean & healthy environment, and overall improved living conditions. They are living in their Gers, some having their own herds, agriculture, and farming work. The kids and students go to schools and kindergartens in the local area.
Despite the lack of infrastructure development and health & safety services, the residents are optimistic about the future development of the Ger district. Many people are worried about the ever-growing lifestyle differences between the urban and rural areas, and it needs long-term consistent measures to tackle the various issues.