Each day, every eight seconds, a child somewhere in the world dies from drinking contaminated water. Today, 2.3 billion people out of seven billion people on earth live in water-stressed areas, according to U.N. estimates, and over one billion people are left using contaminated water for consumption. Every day, 400 million people are on the brink of dying from thirst. In some areas of Africa, people roam for five hours in search of water. In a village in Kenya, residents travel over 10 kilometers to get dirty water for consumption. All these statistics suggest that water is rightfully called “white gold” in Africa. But we Mongolians are lucky. There are fresh water lakes and rivers flowing across our wide prairies. Therefore, we’ve came to worship our rivers that make the continuation of civilization possible.
One of Mongolia’s biggest rivers, the Tuul, has supplied residents with fresh water for 400 years, but this luxury is coming near its end. In recent years, a large number of construction companies have built a lot of buildings in the area of the river’s fresh water reserve. A clear example can be seen from Agnista condominiums built by Imperial Castle LLC, situated in Khan Uul district’s 11th khoroo, west of Leadership Academy. Not far from the banks of the Tuul River, the construction of their condominium center is underway. Fresh water has sprung up from the foundation of one of their buildings for over 10 days. The fresh water is entering the foundation from various places, and using motorized pumps, the water is being removed all night and day. News crew went to the site and there was water flowing out of the foundation through four big channels. The fresh water flowing out of the construction site amounts to hundreds of tons. When asked about the current situation, the construction supervisor remarked, “If the other buildings in this area are fine, then this should be fine, too. We will fill this spot first.”
Imperial Castle has promoted this luxurious condominium center by stressing the fact that it is situated near the flowing Tuul River, and the estimated cost of their properties ranges from 3.5 to 4.5 million MNT per square meter. But with the repercussions of building these condominiums in this area, the company’s acceptance of the responsibilities for looking after the environment once construction is complete is disputable. Residents who buy one of the expensive condominiums will later on suffer a loss and who will be responsible? The company will build the condo, and that is it. However, the residents will buy it with the intention of using it as a long term residence or an investment. It is important to note that water has also recently gushed from the foundation of a two-year-old apartment building in Zaisan Village by Jiguur Grand Group, and mold has grown as a result.
According to a security guard working at a building neighboring the Agnista construction site, water gushing from foundations is a common problem in this area. Therefore, the crew visited other apartment buildings already inhabited; the situation was no better. The resident’s garages were underwater.
Land near the Tuul River has become a marked location for luxurious housing. In fenced-in enclosures stand two to three-story private houses. The houses are protected with big fences, like great walls, security guards and cameras everywhere. Officially, this so-called luxury real estate location is none other than an environmentally protected area for fresh water. By law, 200 meters surrounding the bank of any river is under special protection, and 500 meters from the riverbank is under normal protection. Under these protections, there should be no construction whatsoever. To dump contaminated water into the soil of a fresh water reserve is a disaster, according to specialists. Also, in a 2004 law, it was specifically stated that no construction work would be allowed in fresh water reserve areas. There are no companies following this law. Therefore, the administrators of the Ministry of Construction and Urban Development should take measures against these construction companies.
Not long ago, a conference organized by the Ulaanbaatar Water Supply and Sewage Authority and the Authority for Fair Competition and Consumer Protection resulted in a decision to increase the cost for one liter of fresh water to 48 MNT, and 24 MNT for wastewater. Supplying consumers with fresh water for 24 hours a day was guaranteed, and the increased expense for the required supervision and operational costs called for the increase in water supply and sewage charges. This was a good move to ensure continuous water distribution. But, after charging more, the benefits have not been evident. Instead of raising costs for residents, the authorities should charge the monopolizing construction companies with fair costs to make them realize how valuable the water supply is.
The Tuul River is the chief contributor to Ulaanbaatar’s fresh water reserve and it makes up the majority of the water table. The city’s need for water is growing every day and the Tuul alone cannot supply the water table. In this area, the law is clearly not a strong enough to take measures against outlaw companies. The Ministry of Nature, Environment and Green Development and other environmental agencies should not stay put and just observe the chaos, they should step in and take action by putting an end to construction in progress and stop their operations. For the U.N.’s first Environment Assembly, S.Oyun, Minister for Nature, Environment and Green Development of Mongolia, was elected as its president. But under S.Oyun’s management, environmental management at the state level is clearly unacceptable. Minister S.Oyun is being warned to do her work better. If the Ministry does not do its job of enforcing the law, Mongolians will face water shortages in the near future.