Improving Solid Waste Management in Ulaanbaatar
May 27, 2015
Uncontrolled urban migration and the proliferation of informal settlements known as “ger” areas around the periphery of Ulaanbaatar have created enormous challenges for city services in this burgeoning Mongolian capital, perhaps none of them more perplexing than the problem of simply collecting the garbage. Despite a mayoral commitment and the investment of significant resources and effort, the complex social, cultural, and logistical dynamics of the solid waste problem in ger areas have proven stubbornly immune to selective or ad hoc solutions in the absence of comprehensive planning and reform of the entire system. Since December 2012, The Asia Foundation and the Ulaanbaatar City Municipality have been working together to devise comprehensive ways of addressing the garbage problem.
Solid waste collection in the ger areas is expensive. Road conditions are poor, population density is low, and households and neighborhoods are haphazardly organized, making garbage collection inefficient. Illegal dumpsites for household, commercial, and industrial waste have proliferated in public spaces, partly due to the lack of dependable garbage collection service, and partly because many ger residents are new to the urban setting and are accustomed to disposing of their waste informally. Other behaviors such as fee avoidance, deciding not to invest in household waste bins, missing collection times, or simply failing to understand the urban waste management system have stymied efforts for change, and the system itself has suffered in the past from a municipal structure characterized by weak lines of accountability and lack of information, communication, coordination, and internal oversight at all levels.
In a joint project, Urban Services for the Ger Districts of Ulaanbaatar, funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Foundation has partnered with the Ulaanbaatar City Municipality to tackle the persistent problems of delivering city services in the ger districts, particularly solid waste management. The project has focused on the development and implementation of six model “khoroos,” or subdistricts, where the interconnected problems of solid waste management can be addressed holistically. The model-khoroo approach has allowed possible solutions to be explored, using a testing and demonstration logic in which lessons learned at the micro level lead to improved practices that can have a transformative effect on solid waste management policy at a larger scale.
The six model khoroos were created with the active support of khoroo, district, and city officials, waste transportation companies, and, most importantly, khoroo residents themselves, thereby involving all stakeholders in various initiatives such as the development of solid waste collection schedules and community landscaping projects to convert illegal dumpsites into comfortable public spaces. The new solid waste schedules increased collection frequency, setting twice-a-month service as a minimum standard, and raised public awareness of waste collection schedules. “Residents are extremely happy with the waste collection schedule,” said Mr. Jargalsaikhan, governor of one of the model khoroos, khoroo 16 in Chingeltei district. “The khoroo is serviced regularly, twice per month. Schedules are easy to understand and provide a clear map of the neighborhood, with landmarks clearly shown. Contact information for drivers and managers at the waste collection company is provided so residents can complain if a truck is late or a pick-up is missed.”
Using a flexible, iterative programming approach focused on innovation and based on community-led, custom-designed initiatives at the khoroo level, the project was able to use experiences and lessons learned to develop broader policy proposals for area-wide solid waste management. The project team worked closely with the mayor’s office to implement these reforms, providing technical assistance, drafting new rules and a revision of the existing solid waste management regulation, and creating templates for contracts and schedules.
As a result of this work, the City Management Board in March approved a waste management road map that includes plans for regulatory reform and experimentation with khoroo community cleanup groups to collect waste from inaccessible areas. The culmination of this long, collaborative effort to achieve comprehensive, solid-waste management reform was the May 18 adoption of an amended regulation on solid waste collection, transportation, financing, and fee collection by the City Khural Presidium. The new regulation, developed jointly by the mayor’s office and the Foundation, sets minimum service standards, creates stronger monitoring and evaluation systems, and requires new contracts with all solid waste companies based on rigorous performance reviews. The new standards and incentives are expected to result in reduced illegal dumping, cleaner communities, and more effective and dependable solid waste service for ger area households, including those in areas that are inaccessible by truck.
Gantulga Ganbaatar and Munkhtsetseg Ulziikhutag are urban services program officers, Amarzaya Naran is urban services/governance consultant, and Ariunaa Norovsambuu is urban services program coordinator for The Asia Foundation in Mongolia. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com, respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.
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