More than half of the 1.2 million residents of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, live in the city’s sprawling ger areas, and the majority of residents lack access to basic public services such as water, sewage systems, electricity, and safe waste disposal, and educational resources including libraries.
While the majority of ger residents are poor, living standards vary, with some earning a decent income but still unable to afford the high prices of new apartments elsewhere in the city.
This month, on April 19, The Asia Foundation, together with the Ministry of Environment and Green Development and the City Mayor’s Office, launched a campaign to bring attention to the issue of waste management and the importance of recycling in the ger communities. Riding on this momentum, on World Book Day just a few days later, we held a special awareness-raising event in three ger khoroo’s (sub districts) to address both the issue of waste management among youth, as well as the limited access that these students have to much-needed English-language books.
Illegal dumpsites such as this one are common in the ger areas and are the result of various factors including infrequent household collection, lack of central collection points to dispose of waste, and poor sensitization of residents. Improving solid waste management in the ger areas therefore requires a holistic approach involving governance reforms, addressing technological and infrastructural challenges, and promoting behavioral change.
To mark Ulaanbaatar’s city-wide cleanup day on April 19, the Ministry of Environment and Green Development, the City Mayor’s Office, and The Asia Foundation partnered to launch a public awareness campaign to improve citizen behavior around garbage disposal. Throughout Ulaanbaatar, billboards and posters such as the one above featured the slogan “Waste-Free UB is Everyone’s Responsibility” to remind citizens not to dump garbage illegally.
The Asia Foundation also worked with representatives of khoroo governors’ offices, businesses, residents, school children, and volunteers to clean up public spaces, ger streets, and gullies of the Model Khoroos. Here, volunteers from Chingeltei khoroo 16 wait for instruction before dispersing to clean up garbage in their neighborhood.
Volunteers separate bottles from garbage that fills a gully – a common site in ger areas that this campaign aims to change.
Along with waste management, lack of access to much-needed English-language books is an issue in urban ger communities despite Mongolia’s high literacy rate. Children living in ger districts have limited access to such material in schools. Furthermore, there are very few libraries located in these areas, and travel to better-equipped libraries in central Ulaanbaatar is time-consuming and too costly for many.
On April 23 – World Book Day – together with our Books for Mongolia partner, the American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS), and the Zorig Foundation’s Young Environmentalists Group, we organized “Reading Time with Art,” an event held in schools in three khoroos where we are currently implementing the Model Khoroo Solid Waste Management Project. As part of the event, 100 high-quality English-language books were donated to each of the schools, and staff engaged with the students on the issues of solid waste management in their communities and highlighted the importance of recycling.
The highlight of the World Book Day event was an art session that focused on creating art from recyclable materials in order to raise awareness around the importance of recycling. The activities were based on the book, LooLeDo: Extraordinary Projects from Ordinary Objects by Mark Icanberry, which was donated as part of the collection given to the schools. During discussions, students at Sukhbaatar Secondary School pointed to the lack of garbage cans and recycling bins in their khoroo as a contributing factor to why residents dump waste illegally.
Here, students present their finished projects made out of recyclable materials at the end of the event.
Read more about the Model Khoroo Solid Waste Management Project, implemented under the framework of the Foundation’s Urban Services for the Ger Districts of Ulaanbaatar Project with the support of the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Australian Aid Program.
Tserenkhand Choijinnyam is the Books for Mongolia program coordinator; Hannah Bateman, is an Australian volunteer/urban governance program officer and Tirza Theunissen, the deputy country representative of The Asia Foundation in Mongolia. Tirza Theunissen can be reached at email@example.com.