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Mongolia: The Land of Steppes Searches for Urban Planning Solution

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A patchwork of wooden fences, marking land plots, dot the hills around Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolia may be best known for its endless steppe and nomadic culture, but a significant demographic shift is underway in which rural residents are crowding into urban centers, especially in the capital Ulaanbaatar. Hundreds of thousands of Mongolians face declining living standards as they pack into the capital's polluted, unplanned "ger districts" -- named after the traditional nomad tent being used by migrants unable to find affordable housing.

Ulaanbaatar's population is exploding, rising 70 percent in the just the past 20 years, according to World Bank estimates. Capital city residents now comprise roughly half of the country's population of 3 million, leaving government and international development agencies scrambling to find urban planning solutions. "The city is not meant to cope with this size. The demand for basic urban services has long superseded what is available," says Bijay Karmacharya, chief technical advisor at UN Habitat.

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Pearly Jacob is a freelance journalist based in Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolia: The Land of Steppes Searches for Urban Planning Solution

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