ULAN BATOR, Dec. 7 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and health experts on Wednesday warned about the dire consequences of local air pollution, which residents have been experiencing for more than a decade.
Health experts have noted an increase in cases of child pneumonia due to air pollution in Mongolia's capital Ulan Bator.
Eighteen children ages five and under have died in December this year of pneumonia and lung cancer caused by air pollution, said M. Sarantsetseg, a medical doctor in the Bayanzurkh district of the capital.
Children are more vulnerable to air pollution as their internal organs are not fully developed.
According to a UNICEF report, there is growing evidence of air pollution's effects on children, including reduced fetal growth, preterm birth, pneumonia and acute respiratory disease. The incidence of lung cancer is nine times higher in urban than in rural areas.
Roberto Benes, a resident representative of UNICEF in Mongolia, said the government and the public need to take immediate actions to mitigate the negative impacts of air pollution on the population's and children's health. These actions do not need a lot of funds, he said.
First of all, more residents need to be made aware of the hazards of air pollution, Benes said.
"It is crucial for parents to go to hospitals immediately if their children show first signs of pneumonia," he said.
Second, there is the need to "install air pollution filters in all kindergartens and schools and these will not require much funds," he added.
Oyunkhorol Dulamsuren, Mongolia's environment and tourism minister, said the government has set up a working group to develop national programs to reduce air pollution. Potential activities to reduce air pollution include the development of renewable energy and reducing heat loss from buildings.
More than 800,000 residents, over half of Ulan Bator's population, live in slums, also known as Ger districts.
These residents rely on burning raw coal and other inflammable materials such as plastics and old tire rubber to stay warm and make their meals during the six-month-long winter.
As a result, Ulan Bator, one of the coldest capitals in the world, is now one of the most polluted cities in the world in winter.
Since 2000, the Mongolian government, international donors and development organizations, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, have spent millions of dollars on programs and projects to reduce air pollution.
However, these efforts did not substantially reduce the air pollution in Ulan Bator, as the level of air pollution remains almost as high as it was in early 2000.