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Project November 14, 2023

From Steppe to City: Migration and Urbanization in Mongolia



Songinokhairkhan District is the most rapidly growing district of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia Located in the mountains and hills surrounding the city center, the area is home to over 335,000 people. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.

Mongolia, the world’s most sparsely populated country, has been impacted by rapid climate change over the last decade.

Desertification and drought have led to a loss of grassland and reduced plant growth during the summer. Winters have also become increasingly harsh. The frequency of extremely cold temperatures and snowfall has increased. These severe weather patterns have led to the deaths of livestock en masse—a phenomenon referred to as a dzud.

As severe weather patterns reduce habitable land and threaten livestock, which pastoralists depend upon for life and livelihood, cities are becoming an increasingly appealing alternative. Opportunities to pursue education, secure employment, and proximity to food and medical resources are also driving factors in the mass migration towards the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar.

Underdeveloped infrastructure—including plumbing, sanitation, and electricity, as well as limited medical resources—threaten the health and safety of new city dwellers. Rates of pollution in Ulaanbaatar—the world’s coldest capital city—have also skyrocketed in recent years due to the use of coal to heat gers (more commonly referred to as “yurts”) in the freezing winter months.

These challenges have sparked ambitious solutions projects by local and international nonprofit organizations. Organizations are collaborating on projects ranging from monitoring, mapping newly settled portions of the city, and determining levels of need and access to resources, to designing and constructing mobile, eco-friendly architecture.

This project examines the underlying factors driving mass migration in Mongolia, explores challenges that those living in the outer districts of Ulaanbaatar face, and highlights innovative solutions across industries.


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Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change
teal halftone illustration of a family carrying luggage and walking


Migration and Refugees

Migration and Refugees