2.1 million people, or 70 % of Mongolia’s population, lack access to improved sanitation facilities. Instead, wooden toilets (pit latrines) have been used for centuries, creating a mass of adverse health and environmental effects. These conditions appear on a national level, as seen in Orkhon aimag (province) of Mongolia, where a 2018 study found that 1g of soil in Bayan-Undur soum (an administrative unit of the aimag) was contaminated at a rate of 72%. Worse still, soil near kindergartens was contaminated up to 86%, while the land near schools and ger (Mongolian yurt) districts reported a 67% contamination rate.
Limited basic sanitation systems in residential areas occurs primarily in large ger districts, where residents do not have access to central heating and standard sewage systems. In Orkhon aimag alone, 17,000 households live in ger districts, leading to the presence of 16,700 wooden toilets and 7,300 water waste pits. This situation is hazardous as human and residential waste not only builds up in the inhabited ground, but also evaporates into the air when rain and flooding occurs.
To help alleviate the health and environmental threats caused by wooden toilets in Orkhon aimag, the ‘Supporting the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Mongolia’ project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Mongolia supported 613 vulnerable households living in areas most affected by soil pollution with improved environmentally friendly eco-toilets, with funding from the local Governor's office. These facilities provide a clean and safe sanitation system for residents, in line with the MNS 5924:2015 standardization for eco- toilets in Mongolia. Households who received their new eco-toilets expressed that this improvement was urgently needed. In Bulag bagh (the smallest administrative unit in Mongolia) of Orkhon aimag, one resident demonstrated his dedication to preventing soil pollution surrounding the eco-toilet even further by planting bird-cherry trees, which are known to purify soil and air around springtime. These citizens’ initiatives were further encouraged by the project, which published a handbook on reducing soil pollution and circulated it amongst local residents.
These efforts are part of the project’s commitment towards accelerating inclusive and sustainable development at a local level via achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the launch of the ‘Localizing the SDGs in Orkhon aimag’s subproject in 2019. The project collaborated with the aimag’s Governor’s Office in drafting a ‘Green, Sustainable Development for Orkhon aimag 2025’ mid-term policy document. Public participation remained crucial in this process, with residents of Orkhon aimag gaining access to the aimag’s 2019 expenditure report and 2020 budget plan.
With the contribution of the soil protection prevention pilot project via the installation of eco-toilets, in support of ‘Good Health and Well-being' (SDG 3) in Orkhon, the aimag remains committed to increasing the number of households with improved sanitation facilities every year. Governor of the aimag, S.Batjargal, pledged to remove all 16,700 wooden toilets and replace them with eco-toilets and work towards providing more citizens access to central sanitation systems. In 2021 alone, the Governor’s Office of Orkhon aimag budgeted 200 million Mongolian tugriks (over US$70 thousand) for additional eco-toilets.