The environmental impact of urbanization to Ulaanbaatar and surroundings

Due to the rise of population and the urban migration, the unexpected over-crowding problem created great stress to the urban infrastructure and the city’s planning and zoning of land use. Under this context, many negative side-impacts of collective living were intensified and adversely affect the human and natural environment. Causes and effect of the worsening of public health will be illustrated below.

Due to the uncontrolled expansion of Ger district, more households settle around the area which lacks infrastructure support to domestic living. Therefore, resulted 154,000 households burning coal for cooking and heating, which is 90% of the total air pollutant emitted (Otgonenkh, 2015). Other than that, since coal is the most accessible and convenient source of energy, the increased population also demanded more energy in keeping more people warm during the harsh winters, hence burning coal for generating electricity also increased the emission of pollutants, particularly sulfuric dioxides. All of the sources collectively consumed about 5.9 million tons of coal and 237,196m3 of wood, equivalent to a total of 260,000 tons of air pollutants, 317.8kg per person (Otgonenkh, 2015). In addition to the domestic and industrial consumption, the unsystematic way of treating waste and seasonal weather conditions also increased suspended particulates in the air.

Ulaanbaatar is blessed with precious water resource from the largest river in Mongolia, the Tuul. However, with the increasing demand of fresh water and the inappropriate treatment of sewage and extraction, the river is reported contaminated and quality degraded while passing through the city. Moreover, coping with the demand of daily household use, water from reservoirs and underground water sources were also stressed out. Since 1982, the reserved fresh water dropped about 45% in twenty years thereafter (Mongolia, 2003). Together with the extreme climatic condition, 800 lakes and rivers was lost in the past five years (Elbewgdorj, 2006). The drastic decrement of resources is the result of firstly, families in Ger district used water excessively even for lavatory flushing, and secondly, the inappropriate methods of opening wells and extracting underground water. The incomprehensive water and sewage treatment further affects the public health, such that spreads transmitting diseases like typhoid and Hepatitis A.

River Tuul passing through Ulaanbaatar Photo by Ochir Altansukh
Water quality of River Tuul passing through Ulaanbaatar
Photo by Ochir Altansukh

Mongolia as a nomadic society, was not planned with areas to dispose waste and sewage. In the past social model, the dispersed nomadic way of living is sustainable in adapting the unarranged system of disposing garbage on site since the living condition was not crowded and the land has plenty time to allow natural degeneration of wastes. However, adapting the same approach in crowded living like the Ger district, the unregulated dumping would result in soil pollution with heavy metal like copper, zinc, lead and mercury, which is toxic and harmful to health. Since waste was exposed to air and merely placed on the land surface, during rain and snow-melting seasons, pollutants will be easily spread across extensive area and penetrate to deeper soil profile (Otgonenkh, 2015). Apart from land pollution, the discovery of minerals and rapid exploitation also destroyed a lot of land and caused soil prone to erosion and weathering. When mining, cutting of trees and drought occur simultaneously, land in Ulaanbaatar will become irreversibly damaged.

In a larger scale, all the above mentioned problems do not only affect Ulaanbaatar locally, but also regionally. With the compilation of all the negative impact caused by uncontrolled urbanization, it was documented that natural disasters became more frequent and severe, especially the unique hazard in Mongolia, the Zud, which the impacts will be further discussed. (See blog post Housing; Influence of natural disaster Zud to livelihood)

Effect of Zud to livelihood photo by PIN Archive
Effect of Zud to livelihood
photo by PIN Archive




Elbewgdorj, T. (2006). Zud Natural Disaster, Prevention and Recovery. Speech.

Mongolia, N. S. (2003). Mongolian Statistical Yearbook 2002. Ulaanbaatar.

Otgonenkh, U. (2015). Building modern Mongolia, a review on the Ulaanbaatar City Master Plan 2020. Chinese Culture University.

1 Comment on “The environmental impact of urbanization to Ulaanbaatar and surroundings

  1. Interesting reading , however I think this is a common problem in uncivilised area. I understand how crazy the ger district had been expanded , but I would like to know did the government raise any policy or any action (set up investigating department .etc) to solve the problem ?

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