Smog in the Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar, is causing a public health crisis, especially among children, with treatment costs likely to put the cash-strapped country under increasing strain, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.
The government needed to take urgent action to limit smog-induced health problems, UNICEF and Mongolia's National Center for Public Health said in a study, adding that a failure to act could push treatment costs up by a third by 2025, amounting to a further 4.8 billion tugrik ($2 million) a year in the capital.
"Air pollution has become a child health crisis in Ulaanbaatar, putting every child and pregnancy at risk," UNICEF Mongolia Representative Alex Heikens said in a release.
"The risks include stillbirth, preterm birth, lower birth weight, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, inhibited brain development and death," he said.
Pollution levels in Ulaanbaatar had become worse than that in cities such as Beijing and New Delhi, UNICEF and the public health agency said in their report, released on Thursday.
Concentrations of breathable airborne particles known as PM2.5 were as high as 3,320 micrograms per cubic meter at one monitoring station on Jan. 30, they said.
Average PM2.5 readings for January stood at about 206 micrograms in Ulaanbaatar, according to Reuters calculations based on incomplete government data.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends annual average PM2.5 concentrations of no more than 10 micrograms. PM2.5 in Beijing stood at 34 micrograms in January, down 70.7 percent from a year earlier.
Mongolia has struggled with pollution in its capital, where an influx of out-of-work herders migrating from the countryside has seen the population double in less than two decades.
The government has offered subsidies for more-efficient wood- and coal-burning stoves and it is also providing free electricity at night in some districts.
But smog levels spike in the bitterly cold winters, especially in poor "ger" neighbourhoods, named after the felt tents in which many migrants live.
Many ger households burn coal or even trash to keep warm and the smog they produce has led to a surge in respiratory and heart disease and stoked anger and protests.
"Reducing air pollution levels is the only long-term sustainable solution to protecting children's health," Heikens said.
“In the meantime, thousands of children will continue to suffer unless urgent action is taken."