Friday, April 25, 2014

Mongolia Brief April 24, 2014 Part III



Study finds winter air pollution in UB responsible for dramatic rise in miscarriages
April 24 (UB Post) A report released this week has found a “disturbingly strong correlation” between winter air pollution in Ulaanbaatar and early fetal deaths.

In a paper published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, researchers report “alarmingly strong statistical correlations” between seasonal ambient air pollutants and pregnancy loss in Mongolia’s capital.
Researchers from the Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Mongolian National University and National Center for Maternal and Child Health conducted the study – the first of its kind in the country. The researchers identified burning coal in winter ger stoves as a major source of the city’s toxic air pollutants.
While overall rate of miscarriages in UB occur in some 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies, and not unlike that of Western countries, rates of spontaneous abortion incidence per calendar month increased from 23 per 1,000 live births in May to 73 per 1,000 live births by December 2011.
Ulaanbaatar has emerged as one of the most air polluted capital cities in the world, with particle matter (PM) 2.5 levels reaching over 20 times World Health Organization (WHO) standards during winter months.
The researchers would note that average monthly ambient levels of air pollution showed increases in early mornings, and late evenings – during colder temperatures, when ger stoves are used most.
Recent studies conducted in China, Iran and Brazil found that levels of CO may interfere with tissue oxygenation levels in the early stages of pregnancy, a leading cause of fetal death.
Researchers noted that while Mongolia’s Ministry of Environment and Green Development has made some major policy strides in recent years in curbing air pollution, “the disturbingly strong correlation between air pollution indices and fetal death… suggests that much more needs to be done to further ameliorate the toxic effects of air pollution on the human unborn.”
The researchers estimate that up to five-fold further reduction in air pollutants in winter will be needed to reduce fetal death rates to levels found in Ulaanbaatar’s summer season, yet emphasize that even in summer the level of early-term miscarriages remains “unacceptably high”.


Public transportation delegates discuss development
April 24 (UB Post) Ulaanbaatar’s public transportation delegates gathered for the first time on Wednesday at the Public Transportation Development Key Conference to discuss ways to better organized transportation service in Mongolia and recover reputation of the service among the residents.
Many citizens are concerned over drivers’ traffic violations, poorly routed buses and intervals, as well as inappropriate behavior on duty. Bus conductors are often criticized for their lack of appropriate communicative skills.
The delegates organized the conference hoping to eliminate both work related and ethical violations which are common among drivers and conductors of public buses.
Over 200 delegates from 25 public and private transportation operators shared their ideas at the conference.
Attendees noted that unless public transportation services are favored over private vehicles, auto traffic of a city of 1.3 million residents will soon “go out of control.”
Today, 1,170 buses are running in the city transportation services, which hardly meets the current demand.
Chief of the Ulaanbaatar City Transportation Authority Ch.Enkhbat admitted, “One of the top three pressing issues facing Ulaanbaatar is definitely public transportation. We gathered here to find a proper solution for our problems.”
“Public transportation is considered a very important sector in terms of a country’s development. Before Mongolia shifted to free market economy, transportation sector officials used to be provided with apartments free of charge. Since 1990s, this sector has been literally abandoned.”
Autobus-1 state-owned bus company hosted the conference on the occasion of its 60th year anniversary.
The following is a brief interview with Chief of Autobus-1 Ts.Odontungalag about public transportation service in the city.
What do you think is the best solution to improve public transportation services in Mongolia?
Currently, income is more important than serving the public for public transportation staff. In other words, they are chasing after money too much and fulfilling their duties poorly.
If income is not priority, private companies are unlikely to be interested in working in the sector. Wouldn’t it cause shortage of buses?
Public transportation development is directly linked to reduction of traffic congestions as well as air pollution, according to international experiences. But the fact is completely opposite in Ulaanbaatar. People prefer driving than catching public buses. This sector will recover if the government solves budget issues of private bus operators.
Some officials are talking about creating segregated bus routes and electronic bus fare collectors. Is it possible to introduce these technologies in Mongolia now?
With current conditions, it is rather difficult. Before implementing these reforms, buses must be replaced with new ones and related policies should be revised.
Are there any standards for bus drivers and conductors?
Yes. Drivers must be above 21-years-old, with identity card indicating they have graduated from a professional training, while conductors must be over 18-years-old and must have attended 48-hour training. These standards have to be reformed. Before 1990s, only the most skilled drivers were selected for public transportation service after 11-month paid training. Around 30 to 40 drivers used to be granted free apartments every year.
How are bus drivers trained in foreign countries?
They are trained and seen equally as pilots. Bus drivers are state servants, so states resolve all welfare and social services for them, while drivers in Mongolia have low salaries. That is why skilled drivers refuse to work as bus drivers and companies are left with no other option but to hire whoever is interested.


SouthGobi Resources announces select first quarter 2014 operating results
April 24 (UB Post) SouthGobi Resources announced this week its select first quarter 2014 operating results.
“Consistent with the coal sales and production guidance provided in January 2014, coal sales and production decreased in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the fourth quarter of 2013. Sales volume is generally lower in the first quarter of each year due to the seasonal holidays of Mongolian Tsagaan Sar and Chinese New Year, which result in border closures at the Shivee Khuren-Ceke crossing at the Mongolia-China border and a general decrease in the level of economic activity at the Shivee Khuren Border Crossing,” the company said.
SouthGobi resumed operations at the Ovoot Tolgoi coal mine on March 22, 2013 after having been fully curtailed since the end of the second quarter of 2012. This resulted in higher coal production in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the first quarter of 2013.
As of April 21, 2014, the company had cash of 15.8 million USD. Included in the 15.8 million USD cash balance is an eight million USD customer prepayment for future coal deliveries.
SouthGobi said that changes in its cash position in certain periods are inclusive of cash interest paid on the China Investment Corporation (CIC) convertible debenture in the amount of 8.1 million USD in the fourth quarter of 2013, 4.1 million USD in the third quarter of 2013 and four million USD in the first quarter of 2013. The next cash interest payment on the CIC convertible is 7.9 million USD and is due on May 19, 2014.
Coal production in the second quarter of 2014 will be paced to meet contracted sales volumes, according to SouthGobi.
SouthGobi is listed on the Toronto and Hong Kong stock exchanges, in which Turquoise Hill Resources, also publicly listed in Toronto and New York, has a 56 percent shareholding. Turquoise Hill took management control of SouthGobi in September 2012 and made changes to the board and senior management. Rio Tinto has a majority shareholding in Turquoise Hill.
SouthGobi is focused on exploration and development of its metallurgical and thermal coal deposits in Mongolia’s South Gobi Region. It has a 100 percent shareholding in SouthGobi Sands LLC, the Mongolian registered company that holds the mining and exploration licenses in Mongolia and operates the flagship Ovoot Tolgoi coal mine. Ovoot Tolgoi produces and sells coal to customers in China.
Outlook
The company said that it anticipates that coal prices in China will remain under pressure in 2014, which will continue to impact the company’s margins and liquidity. Based on its forecasts for the year ending December 31, 2014, SouthGobi said it is unlikely to have sufficient capital resources and does not expect to generate sufficient cash flows from mining operations in order to satisfy its ongoing obligations and future contractual commitments, including cash interest payments due on the CIC convertible debenture. Therefore, SouthGobi is actively seeking additional sources of financing to continue operating and meet its objectives.
If SouthGobi is unable to secure the additional sources of financing and continue as a going concern, then this could result in adjustments to the amounts and classifications of assets and liabilities in the company’s consolidated financial statements and such adjustments could be material, the company said.


M.Sonompil: the city will not lack electricity
April 24 (UB Post) We met with M.Sonompil, Minister of Energy yesterday, in connection with an announcement that 2014 will be a building year in the field of power. One of the projected power stations will be built with funding from the Development Bank and two will be built by Concession Contract.
The Amgalan Station will eliminate 86 low pressure stoves
The advantage of Amgalan Station is that it is the first thermal power station. Mongolian power will come from a combination of thermal and electrical power stations. Amgalan Station will produce 388 megawatts of energy and its basement work already started on August 23, 2013. Currently its construction work is at 80 percent completion and the first of the three chambers will be ready to use by October 15, 2014.  The finishing date is set for December.
M.Sonompil, Minister of Energy, stated that putting the Amgalan Station into use will eliminate the 86 low pressure stoves in Bayanzurkh district. The heat that is being distributed from thermal electrical station #4 to Bayanzurkh district is delivered six to eight hours later. It causes a huge amount of heat loss and economical expenditure. By building Amgalan Station, the heat from the thermal electrical station #4 will be used in the central heating system. The 388 megawatt supply is enough power to support over 50 thousand households.
A Chinese machinery engineering company is the project executor and there are ten supporting executor companies from Mongolia. B.Battumur, head of the project said “At present there are approximately 230 Chinese building workers and in the future there will be 1000 workers at the top levels of the work”.
He continued to say that the project is being done using the Concession Contract’s 75.9 million USD. The project managing company’s occupancy for the station is 20 years. There is currently an incomplete connection of the waste water pipes between Shar Khad and Uliastai. There is no place to distribute their extra water. Amgalan Station is under construction near to ger area. Originally, it was the plan that there must not be any household at a distance of 50 meter from the station. He stated that they hope that these issues will be sorted when the thermal station is ready to use.
Extension of thermal power plant #3
The extension work of thermal power plant #3 started in June, 2013 and now it is near to completion. It was very impressive to see such a big building. This building consists of an extension of the main building, cooling tower, electric distribution building, cooling pump and station building. The basement of thermal power plant #3 was established in 1963. It provides 17.6 percent of electricity and 32 percent of the heating to Ulaanbaatar city.  The extension of the station will increase the electricity output by 50 megawatts and the city’s heating supply by 75 kcal. This means 4,500 households of 95 buildings will be provided with heat and electricity. The total cost of the project is 35 million USD. The Chinese Human Industrial Equipment is the project manager of this project. The extension will be finished in June, 2014.
The usage increase of thermal power plant #4 
Thermal power plant #4 provides 70 percent of central regions in the city with electricity and 65 percent of Ulaanbaatar’s heating. Thermal power plant #4 is currently overloaded because  the electrical usage of Mongolia has increased 8 to 10 times in recent years.
The extension project for 123 megawatt electricity and 188 kcal heat was started to counter this extra strain on the thermal station and it is expected to be finished on November 14, 2014. B.Tseveen, executive director of this station, said “The extension work will reduce the increased strain of electricity and heating usage for the short term.”
The difference between this and the above mentioned project is that the contract companies are from Russian; two companies besides the Development Bank. Its construction cost is 70 million USD and specialists say that it is possible to get back the cost within 4.5 to 7.8 years.
Since 1994, thermal power plant #4 has received new and updated technologies thanks to Japanese grant aids, Asian bank’s soft loans and the Czech Republic’s grant aid.  The station has introduced its updates to the Minister of Energy. Among their updates, they have installed a generator which produces 120 megawatt electricity. This is considered the most powerful generator.
Below is an interview with M.Sonompil, Minister of Energy.
How much our energy is increasing with implementation of these projects?
If the three big buildings will put into use, a total of 170 megawatt energy will be available from October and November. The heating will increase by 588 kcal. The total amount of heat we use in UB is 1500 kcal. Therefore, 588 kcal equals 30 percent of the total usage. That means Ulaanbaatar will not suffer from lack of electricity and heat for at least five years. Maybe during a period of high demand, we might use Russian electricity.
What is the current situation of thermal power plant #5?
Last September, tender selection for thermal power plant #5 was conducted. The working group discussion between the Minister of Energy and Minister of Economic Development has concluded. So soon it will be discussed in the parliament. During the discussion, the issue of investment, the cost of one kilowatt of electricity, the value of nature and the environment, and water will be discussed. It is likely that the discussion will be lengthy. Moreover, the issues relating to the situation of the site will be shortly solved.
Where is the location of the plant?
It will be built in front of the Urgakh Naran micro district, covering 43 hectares of land.
Can you talk about development projects underway in provinces?
The government developed big projects to supply the provinces with heat and electricity. The government made a decision to build thermal power plants in eight provinces. I have met with the administration of these provinces. This month contracts will be made and real work will start from May. By 2015, their constructions will be done.
Which provinces were chosen?
The provinces with projects for thermal power plants are Khentii, Dundgovi, Uvurkhangai, Arkhangai, Govisumber, Bayankhongor, Zavkhan and Govi-Altai.
What if the plants run deficit even though the buildings have been completed?
The government has managed the deficit from electricity for many years. They released Parliaments Decree 72 resolution. In that resolution, they decided to work by transferring the price of electricity to the market rule from January 1, 2014. To implement it, surveys are being conducted.


D.Angarag: No matter how famous I become, I’ll never change my nationality
April 24 (UB Post) A member of the Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS) and cinematographer D.Angarag is going to work in a psychological film named “Precious” by a foreign producer. The following is an interview about his upcoming projects and films.
Will Mongolian cinematic arts develop and succeed best through optimum cultural policy and sufficient funds or by collaborating with foreign artists?
Mongolians say that the state isn’t supporting us and that we need financial support. From a certain perspective, it seems as though that many films are produced and Mongolian cinematic arts are developing, but strictly speaking, it’s stagnating. I used to think that producing high and low quality films was a way towards development. Now, I want to criticize artists for not developing their abilities and awakening their talents. They’re working with their basic knowledge acquired in schools, without seeking technical help from people in the industry such as cinematographers and music directors. Technology is developing and improving rapidly. Mongolians think as if just acquiring technologies rumored to be good, it will develop Mongolian cinematic arts.  They can only see the true wonders of technology if they have complete knowledge about it and operate it as if it were their hands.
You were invited to the Oscars and attended training for international professional cinematographers. How did you become recognized internationally? To reach international levels, what must Mongolians do?
They just need to do some research. It’s important to become acquainted with many and collect information. Mongolians think as if someone will come from the heavens and help them. There’s no such thing in history. I contacted foreign artists and showed them my work. They liked it and we became close friends. Later, I received an invitation to the Oscar. Even though, I’m going to many places alone, I’m trying my best to build a bridge for Mongolian cinematic arts to step on to the world stage.
You’ve received training at the American Society of Professional Cinematographers. Will you share what you’ve learned with Mongolian cinematographers?
This is what I think about most. Instead of just one person developing, everyone needs to be capable in order to succeed. Many people tell me to instruct and teach but I have many things I don’t know. I need to be serious about this otherwise if I teach imperfectly learnt things to others, it will not be of any help. When I’ve acquired a certain amount of knowledge and think I’m ready, I’ll share it with others.
To produce work that is able to compete on a global scale, how important is technology?
You can make philosophical films or films that portray the inner world and emotions. What’s important is how you’ll present it at international markets. “Alsiin Udirdlaga” (Remote Control), by director Byambaa, participated in several international festivals, and got an award. Majority of Mongolian films weren’t able to do this. We need a powerful crew.
Can you talk about the film you’re collaborating with an American producer? From the Mongolian side, what was proposed?
It will be screened in late 2015. Although Mongolian producers make good films, they don’t plan on how to take it to international markets. They think producers are people who fund films. A movie is an art but also a business. Before films are made in America, they wrap up their preparation for many months and plan on where it’ll be screened, sold and in which festival it’ll participate.
Mongolian actor Batmend is rumored to star in this film. Why did you choose him? From Mongolia, who else is to take up a role?
When I went to America in October 2013, I showed “Bodliin Khulgaich” (Thief of Thoughts) to some artists. Though Amaraa was the protagonist, Batmend was able to capture many of the viewers. When I went to America last month, they asked me to bring him along since they wanted to meet him. After seeing “Anu Khatan,” “Bodliin Khulgaich,” “Sharga Daaga” in which he played major roles, it was decided that we’d work together. He’ll act out a role which is a critical supporting role.
Cinematographers’ crew and a female actress from Mongolia is to take part in the film also. We’re discussing ways to bring in a Mongolian director. From Mongolia, a crew of 10 will participate.
After watching “Bodliin Khulgaich” what did American artists say?
There was only one mistake we made and that was technology. It was produced with technologies we had, not with the latest technologies like America. They talked about technological issues at the very end. They said artistic intuition was good. It was able to touch people’s hearts because it was inspired from real life and shot in real environment, without creating artificial environment. “Bodliin Khulgaich” was able to become the bridge for me to collaborate with foreign artists. Only in America, I was able to feel that we can be a good team.
You must receive many film proposals. How do you make your choice?
Even if it’s based on the director’s point of view, viewers will see it from my perspective. I don’t have the right to show them bad quality films. First, I read the script. If it’s interesting, I’ll contemplate on whether I can bring it to life.
What’s the most challenging aspect of being a cinematographer?
In America, we discussed this exact topic. Everyone thinks differently. Some say pictures with constant movement, whereas others say it’s challenging to get shots that give full impact of the role. I’m still looking for my own style.
What sort of scripts do you like?
I like fantasy or horror stories.
Which is better, to work on scenes or to watch the results of your efforts after everything has finished?
Watching films you’ve worked on with others is the best. Many people ask if I can point out mistakes while watching films. Although I know what was happening before the camera, I take pleasure from films by watching it from a viewer’s perspective.
Do you often cry after watching a film?
I guess I’ll have to talk about “Bodliin Khulgaich” once more. While watching it in America, I was touched when Amaraa met his mother after escaping from prison and nearly cried. Probably because I watched it after a few years. I felt as if I was watching someone else’s work. It felt nice.
While there are artists who don’t like watching films because they might copy it, there are many who think it’s important to watch and study other’s experience in order to not repeat ideas. How often do you watch films?
I don’t watch the same type of films that I’m about to work on. For instance, when working on historical films, if I watch the same genre, I’ll want to add some parts of it. If I copy, I will not have anything to brag as my own. Films are made based on my imagination.
Many directors start out as cinematographers. Do you plan on becoming a director someday?
If I were to change my profession after many years, I’ll become a colorist. I judged the color of most of the films I worked on including, “Anu Khatan” and “Bodliin Khulgaich.” Currently in Mongolia, there’s no film that used colors like those in “Alsiin Udirlaga,” “Aravt,” “Anu Khatan” and “Bodliin Khulgaich.” I’m not a super human like directors. I’ll only try out things I can do.
Why do you make your photographs mostly with faint colors such as dark blue, grey or fog-like colors?
I don’t know why. It must be because I like those kinds of photographs. Many people ask about taking photographs. I advise them to take pictures of things they want to see after they’ve based it on theories. If I want to take a picture of a woman wearing completely white clothes under a pitch black sky, I’ll only take pictures of that. I don’t care if others don’t like it. It’s fine as long as I can get satisfaction from it.
Do you participate in international photography competitions such as World Press Photo and National Geographic Traveler?
I’m not interested in such things as I don’t take pictures to get awards. With a portrait of an old man smoking a pipe, I participated in photographer’s forum for the first time and got an award. I received proposals to use my photographs from a variety of places.
Can you elaborate on that portrait?
In 2009, while traveling for a documentary film in Dundgovi Province, the director suggested we visit a family and that’s how I came upon their place. As soon I saw him, I wanted to take his picture. His stance and tone of his voice left a strong impression. To take a picture, we talked for over an hour. He was a war veteran who fought at Khalkh River. If I hadn’t talked to him and took a picture as soon as I entered, that portrait wouldn’t have become such a fine work.
As a cinematographer, what’s your biggest dream?
I want to produce a fairytale like “The Lord of the Ring” and “Hobbit” with Mongolian heroes.
If a foreign company gave you a life changing proposal but you had to change your nationality, what would you do?
No matter how famous I get, I’ll never change my nationality. My objective is to steal the secrets of American cinematic arts and use it to flourish Mongolia. I’ll only know their secret if I work with them.


America’s Grim Legacy in Iraq
April 24 (UB Post) By John Tirman
The Iraq War is now 11 years old and still tearing up the country, but no longer with the assistance of U.S. troops. Between 500,000 and 700,000 people died from 2003–2011. The monthly civilian toll now is as high as it’s been since 2008. It’s a riven country, at odds with itself, fending off jihadists from Syria, and morally and physically drained by more than 20 years of war (starting with Operation Desert Storm in 1991) and crippling sanctions.
And that’s not all. We now know, thanks to the courageous efforts of several researchers, that environmental toxins have likely poisoned the country – another consequence of the war instigated by the United States. The munitions the United States used in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom are the apparent culprits, and, like the grim Agent Orange legacy in Vietnam, controversy and denial animate much of the discussion.
Two agents are at issue. One is depleted uranium, which is used to harden bullets and mortar shells to enable them to more easily penetrate targets. Depleted uranium (DU) is slightly radioactive and harmful if inhaled, though the extent of this hazard is unclear and most studies discount widespread impacts. The most likely effect is chemical (rather than radiological), and affects kidneys, according to studies conducted in manufacturing DU applications. Other metals used in munitions could have similar effects.
A second candidate is white phosphorous (WP), a known carcinogen, which U.S. forces used extensively in Fallujah and possibly elsewhere to light up fields of battle, and as an incendiary. The Army referred to its use of WP as “shake and bake.” A shell containing WP could burn toxic smoke for 15 minutes. Israel also used WP extensively in its assault on Gaza in 2008 and 2009, but said last year it would no longer use the agent.
These toxic materials, among others, have largely been ignored in the aftermath of the war. But epidemiological studies have raised the distinct possibility that such agents have taken a sizable human toll, particularly in Fallujah and other places of intense fighting.
A 2010 peer-reviewed study by molecular biologists found high rates of birth defects among Iraqis in Fallujah – “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied,” according to the lead author. Another scientific study found that “since 2003, congenital malformations have increased to account for 15% of all births in Fallujah, Iraq. Congenital heart defects have the highest incidence, followed by neural tube defects. Similar birth defects were reported in other populations exposed to war contaminants.”
Depleted uranium is a leading suspect for these effects, though many official bodies, including the World Health Organization, assert that based on most studies, DU is not enough of a hazard to explain birth defects. A comprehensive report issued by a coalition of activists seeking to ban DU responds that studies have not been done in enough war zones to understand the dynamic effects of the weapons and the environment. The subject deserves considerably more independent study.
Currently, there’s no indication that the U.S. military will stop using DU or WP weapons. They’re not classified as chemical weapons, though a case could be made that they should be. It defies logic that there are no effects from these contaminants when the high levels of “genetic damage” are coincident with the conduct of the war.
The military’s rote response in most cases of wrongdoing is denial. Remarkably, the American people and their political leaders are in denial about the impacts of the Iraq War as well. Many news media elites insist that no more than 100,000 people have been killed, and there’s little attention to the millions of Iraqis displaced from their homes by the war.
That the shattered society earns little heed today is no surprise – it’s a misadventure everyone wants to forget. But the mothers with malformed babies and high rates of infant pathologies are grim reminders of our legacy. It happens in all of America’s wars: We’re leaving a legacy of the uncaring bully. We should be better than that.
John Tirman is executive director of the MIT Center for International Studies. He is author of The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars (Oxford University Press).


A photographic journey to Sochi 2014
April 24 (UB Post) Member of the Board of the Mongolian Sports Journalists’ Federation, vice president of the Mongolian Judo Federation and photographer Ch.Ganbat is showcasing his photography exhibition, entitled “Sochi 2014”, at Blue Moon Art Gallery from April 23 to 27.
Ch.Ganbat worked as a photographer at Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games and took photographs of interesting and touching moments during the Winter Olympic Games. He was the only official photographer for Mongolia at the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games. He previously unveiled an exhibition named “London 2012.”
The Mongolian Sports Journalists’ Federation is organizing the exhibition with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Around 50 photographs are being displayed in the exhibition. Let us travel to Sochi 2014 until April 27.

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