After growing up in Manila, one of the densest and most cyclone-prone cities in the world, I expected my first visit to Mongolia to be filled with vast plains and blue skies. The plains and skies did not disappoint – but I quickly learned that Ulaanbaatar, the country’s capital, is a city that is rapidly becoming like many other cities where I have lived and worked.
There is the unmistakable buzz of a place that is growing, and growing fast. People move to Ulaanbaatar from the countryside for the opportunities that open up to them, with the city now home to nearly half the country’s population. It is becoming more cosmopolitan every time I go – there is even a Cuban restaurant with a Cuban chef. And, like many other cities in Asia, Ulaanbaatar has floods.
Out of the 34 floods recorded from 1915-2013, about 60% occurred from 2000-2009. The 1966 flood stood out in collective memory as being the last “big one.” Yet in 1966, Ulaanbaatar only had a population of over 200,000, now it has over 1.3 million people.