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Mongolia's growing shantytowns: the cold and toxic ger districts

David Lawrence's picture

 

Children breathe thick, toxic smog from thousands of stoves in Ulaanbaatar's ger districts, which are home to 60 percent of the city's population.
There’s no capital city anywhere in the world with a housing problem like Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Imagine a city of one million people. Then imagine 60 percent of them living in settlements without water, sanitation or basic infrastructure, often in traditional Mongolian felt tents, known as gers. Then imagine these people relying on wood- or coal-burning stoves for cooking and heating, with fuel costs eating up 40 percent of their income. Then imagine the discomfort of having to get up in the middle of the night when it’s -35 degrees Celsius to go to the bathroom – outdoors.

Worst of all, imagine you and your children breathing the thick, toxic smog from thousands of stoves 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unfortunately, this is not imagination, this is the real situation for over a half million people living in the ger districts of the capital. Not a pretty picture.

Cheerful colors reflect new hope for earthquake victims in Indonesia

Nia Sarinastiti's picture
The 2006 earthquake killed Tito Judi's adopted son and destroyed his house. He feels the cheerful colors of his new home help to lift his spirits.

On an early morning in 2006, an earthquake struck Special Province of Yogyakarta and Central Java in Indonesia. The place, known for its heritage, culture, scenery and humble life of its people, was devastated. The 6.2 Ricther Scale quake killed about 5,700 people and left more than 150,000 families homeless and 50,000 injured. But given the many life hardships that most of people have had to face since losing their homes and loved ones from the disaster, beneficiaries of the Java Reconstruction Fund (JRF) – managed by the World Bank – seem to have beaten the odds and have since long moved on with their lives.

What I found most interesting during my visits to the locations is the sense of style and creativity of the house owners.  Especially in the villages of Bantul, Yogyakarta – the hardest struck area – people can easily identify houses that were funded by JRF through the outstandingly colored, newly constructed houses, painted in cheerful tints of pink, yellow, green, blue, red, or somewhere in between.  How it all started was never revealed, but it seems everyone wanted to get away from the conservative colors of white, crème and grey.

After the Sichuan earthquake: Where will people live?

Mara Warwick's picture

Approaching the mountains from the Chengdu plain along the main road to Beichuan County, red banners with large white characters expressing support for the earthquake victims and thanks to the rescuers, are strung across the road, as if creating an arbor for all to pass through.  Driving up this road doesn’t feel safe, even now, six weeks after the quak