Deep winter in Mongolia often means extreme cold, smog

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ImageThis morning, my kids stood waiting for the school bus, crying. The bus was late, and they had been outside for about three minutes. No wonder. The temperature outside was -39 degrees Celsius. I thought we had bundled them up enough; they had so many layers on that they looked like astronauts. But they were still freezing.

This winter is especially cold. It's in the 30 degrees below zero every day, and has dipped below -40°C.  In some parts of Mongolia, it has fallen below -50°C. There is frost on the windows of our office.

When there's a lot of snow, combined with bitter cold and wind, you have a Mongolian Dzud. Livestock have trouble reaching fodder through the snow and freeze to death. Thousands of animals have already died this winter. Sometimes herders freeze, too.

The first snow of the winter fell in September last year, and we will see the last flurries in May or June. So from my tropical perspective, winter lasts for more than half a year. But deep winter is from December to February. We are in the middle of it right now. We're like prisoners in our offices and homes, and only go outside when absolutely necessary.

Smog caused by coal-burning stoves settles over Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Pollution is also worse this year. Over half of the population of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, relies on coal-burning stoves to keep warm in winter. In the morning, the city is blanketed in smog. It smells bad and makes you cough a lot. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in the middle of it.

Alarmed by the cold, I told my kids to get back in the house. My son had already suffered from a frostbitten ear after a few minutes outdoors without a hat. But just as they started running back, the bus arrived.

I can't wait until March, when the temperature might reach freezing. Just seven more weeks...


David Lawrence

International Development Consultant

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