21st Century Ger: Innovation experts set to reinvent traditional Mongolian homes

Ulaanbaatar – home to half of Mongolia’s three million population – has the most toxic air in the world during winter. The biggest source of air pollution comes from coal-burning stoves in the “ger district which makes up 60 percent of Ulaanbaatar’s population. “Ger” districts consist of self-built detached houses and traditional Mongolian gers, a round, felt nomadic dwelling.

Air pollution has now reached critical levels, with city residents exposed to annual average concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5) over a dozen times higher than WHO standards.

Children are the most vulnerable to adverse health effects of air pollution from the day they are conceived, including stillbirth, preterm birth, lower birth weight, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, and even death.

In addition, emerging evidence suggests that breathing in toxic air (PM2.5) can damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development in babies and young children – leading to lifelong implications and setbacks.

“Designing the 21st Century Ger” is a UNICEF’s initiative to reduce coal consumption and improve indoor air quality for families living in gers. To kick start this initiative, UNICEF MongoliaUNICEF’s Office of Innovation, along with local implementing partner GerHub, organized
a five-day in-country, immersive workshop in March 2018.

Local and international experts from the fields of architecture, design, education, material science, urban planning, building science, and international development gathered to exchange knowledge and ideas for design improvements that could upgrade ger performance.

The group of experts traveled to the countryside to understand rural ger dwellers. The group assembled a ger and experienced it overnight to better understand what it takes to live in a ger.
The participants also spoke with local vendors at the black market, Narantuul to learn about imported and locally available materials used for ger construction. To understand urban ger dwellers, the experts went to a ger district in the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar and interviewed families.
The participants learned about challenges related to ger thermal performance and maintenance, including heat loss and indoor air pollution. The families also stressed out the importance of issues surrounding air pollution and monitoring, knowledge sharing, health impacts, heating systems, ger design and living costs.
One of the key findings was that there was quite a bit of household innovation already taking place but there was minimal sharing of knowledge with others.

The group spent a day in EcoTown, a ger area community center which tests out different ger designs, to reflect their findings and thoughts from family interviews.

Based on the findings and experience from the five-day mission, UNICEF, GerHub, and experts group planned the way-forward for the Ger Innovation Challenge. The expert groups will work on prototypes and community engagement initiatives between May and October 2018.

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