Climate change affects poor and vulnerable communities before it affects wealthier ones, and what’s happening in Mongolia is a prime example. A new BBC video on life in the capital of Ulaanbaatar highlights how many families are struggling to protect their kids from the effects of the city’s disastrous air pollution.
More than half of Mongolia’s population lives in the capital, the BBC reports—in part because of families who have traditionally been nomadic herders are leaving their lifestyles on the steppe as it becomes increasingly unsustainable. One woman interviewed by the BBC described how their livelihood and their herd is at the mercy of the seasons—which have become increasingly extreme—and that now she doesn’t see a future in which her children can become herders. She hopes she can get a job as a chef in Ulaanbaatar.
But because so many people live in Ulaanbaatar, “and most of them are burning raw coal” because it’s one of the cheapest ways to stay warm, the BBC reports, the air quality is so bad in the city that many young children face persistent health and breathing problems. The BBC spoke to Dr. Ganchuluun Zundui, from at a local hospital, who said that they see hundreds of children per day during the winter, and most come in with breathing problems. But no matter how hard the hospital works, the problem is outside; the interviewer asks Dr. Zundui how it feels to help children get better but know that they’re just going back outside to the same air pollution that made them sick.
“It’s really difficult for me to think about that because I’m a mother myself,” she says (the BBC’s translation). “I can’t imagine my children getting this sick.”
Air filters in the home can help better the quality of life for children, if families can afford them. For Mongolia’s youngest, innovations like that will be lifelines—but unfortunately, they’re just a band-aid for a systemic, existential problem. You can watch the whole video here.