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Tuning In | Demanding cleaner air in Mongolia, with Aza Tsogtsaikhan, director and co-founder of Breathe Mongolia

Written by AJ Cortese Published on     2 mins read

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Started as a grassroots movement, Breathe Mongolia has attracted big-name backers like UNICEF, the European Union, and the US Embassy in Mongolia.

Aza Tsogtsaikhan is human rights and environmental activist, serving as co-founder and director of Breathe Mongolia, a non-profit aimed at increasing awareness of Mongolia’s air pollution crisis. In addition to her activism, she works full-time as a strategic financial analyst for IBM.

KrASIA (Kr): Can you introduce yourself and why you were inspired to start Breathe Mongolia?

Aza Tsongtsaikhan (AT): I grew up in Mongolia, but spent half my life working and studying overseas in Australia and the US. In the last few years, I came to understand the health crisis that my family and country have been experiencing over the last decade. Even though I lived and grew up there, I didn’t have any awareness or knowledge about the health impact of air pollution. When it came to my attention through a protest in Mongolia a few years back, the more I learned, I felt that I shouldn’t sit still and instead, actually do something.

My family members who were normally healthy were getting hospitalized due to pneumonia. It was alarming and it opened my eyes. I was worried about my family and the Mongolian community. Pneumonia is the number two killer of children under five in my country. The rates of lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke have all been rising over the past decade or so.

The pollution in our capital city of Ulaanbataar, which only has 1.5 million residents, can be five times worse than Beijing, even as bad as major cities in India or Bangladesh. That’s ridiculous because we have only 3 million people in total. We breathe that kind of air and produce that much pollution even though our population is so small. Mongolia is not that industrialized or crowded.

I wanted to raise awareness about this issue because people just didn’t care or know enough about it enough so I started peaceful protests in New York City’s Times Square. I bought World War two masks from an old army store and put on my traditional Mongolian clothes, and posted photos to my Facebook.

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