Plugging In Unplanned Settlements in a City Master Plan

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In Ulaanbaatar, an integrated approach to urban planning has helped connect isolated ger districts to basic services.


Ulaanbaatar’s urbanization has outpaced the capacity of its infrastructure and services to provide for its inhabitants. With the continued expansion of its ger districts that house migrants from the countryside, Mongolia’s capital and largest city needed a masterplan to make it more responsive to the challenges of fast-paced urbanization and at the same time provide the gers with much-needed basic services.

A project supported by the Asian Development Bank provided key policy recommendations to improve services and regulations in the planning, delivery, and coverage of municipal infrastructure services, focusing on water, sanitation, and urban planning in Ulaanbaatar’s ger districts.  

Project Snapshot

  • September 2010 : Approval Date
  • September 2012 : Closing Date

  • $562,046.98 : Amount Utilized

  • Executing agency :
    • Ulaanbaatar Municipal Government
  • Financing :
  • Financing :
    • Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction

Urban Ulaanbaatar can be divided into two distinct parts: the city capital which is a more affluent but increasingly congested core where most jobs and services are clustered and the ger districts at the city outskirts, which continue to take on a life of their own because of urban migration.

Data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) revealed that between 2010 and 2016, more than 120,000 people moved to Ulaanbaatar from rural areas to seek better jobs, improve their living conditions, and secure access to services, like health and education. Extreme climate events like increased temperatures and dry spells have also increased urban migration. Most migrants end up settling in the ger districts.

Ulaanbaatar’s gers are home to 60% of the capital’s population or about 840,000 people. The city population has grown by more than 30% since 2007, due mainly to expanding ger settlements, and is expected to reach 1.9 million by 2025.


Because the ger districts are unplanned areas of expansion, they lack basic urban services, including water supply and sanitation.  Ger area residents lack piped water, so they get their supply from public kiosks or from mobile water sellers. There is also no comprehensive sewerage system even for buildings and residential houses so most people use outdoor latrine pits or pots.

In a country where winter temperatures can plunge to minus 40°C, the lack of central heating is a major problem. The low-grade coal used by old power plants and by residents for their boilers and stoves is a leading cause of air pollution in the capital, especially during winter months. 

There is a need to improve strategic and long-term urban planning as well as land-use regulations to address threats to environmental and public health safety, prevent contagious diseases, improve livelihood opportunities, and reduce inequalities within communities and the overall population of the ger districts.


With funding support from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, ADB implemented the Mongolia: Ulaanbaatar Water and Sanitation Services and Planning Improvement Technical Assistance  project to support the country’s Urban Sector Roadmap. The project helped improve urban planning and management, enhance infrastructure with water and sanitation service planning and maintenance as priority; and apply innovative approaches to attract the private sector in providing urban services. 

Strategic analysis of the city’s urban development and assessment of its existing and needed infrastructure were conducted. Priority recommendations on policy and institutional reforms as well as a plan for policy dialogue, capacity building, and quality projects were drawn. Frequent consultations with the municipal government, related ministries, key stakeholders, and communities during several review missions and associated workshops were also done to optimize synergies among partners. 

Project Outcomes

The project demonstrated the need for an integrated approach to successfully implement the redevelopment process in Ulaanbaatar. It established a shared and strategic vision that made the following possible:

  • Ger development issues broken down into manageable pieces by upgrading existing economic and service hubs, named  subcenters; and
  • Infrastructure investment used to initiate structural changes in the land use pattern, providing better ground for water and sanitation services delivery.

One of the groundbreaking aspects of the project was the integration of the ger areas redevelopment into the city master plan. The Ger Area Redevelopment Strategy is one of the main components of Mongolia’s “Adjustments to the Ulaanbaatar City Urban Development Master Plan 2020 and Development Directions 2030.” This paved the way for ADB to open a long-term, large-scale, and innovative portfolio for Ulaanbaatar’s urban sector.

The integrated roadmap in water, sanitation, and urban planning for Ulaanbaatar became the cornerstone of the following projects:

  • Ulaanbaatar Urban Service and Ger Areas Development Investment Program
    Financed by ADB, Municipality of Ulaanbaatar, European Investment Bank, and Urban Financing Partnership, the program is designed to build priority infrastructure, such as heating facilities and networks, sewerage services, roads, bridges, water supply network, water reservoirs, public parks, kindergartens, and business incubators with vocational training facilities to upgrade existing small economic hubs into a network of inclusive and dynamic secondary centers in Ulaanbaatar’s ger areas.
  • Ulaanbaatar Green Affordable Housing and Resilient Urban Renewal Sector Project
    Cofinanced by ADB, Municipality of Ulaanbaatar, Green Climate Fund, and High-Level Technology Fund, this project is designed to deliver sustainable and comprehensive solutions to transform the substandard, climate-vulnerable, and heavily polluting ger areas into affordable, low carbon, climate-resilient, and livable eco-districts. It will leverage private sector investment to provide 10,000 affordable green housing units and redevelop 100 hectares of ger areas into eco-districts.

The project used a participatory and integrated approach in engaging the government and other stakeholders. A shared and strategic vision for Ulaanbaatar’s urban development helped build consensus, ownership, and participation for the programs and activities.

Lessons from the experiences of ADB, other donors, and international organizations in water, sanitation, and ger areas development have been useful in building effective and efficient project strategies. Past interventions showed that institutional and capacity weaknesses can become serious constraints; and that social environment and consultation, close dialogue with the government, and integration into the urban planning and development are key parameters for project design.

Arnaud Heckmann
Principal Portfolio Management Specialist, Nepal Resident Mission, Asian Development Bank

Prior to his current post, Arnaud Heckmann was Principal Urban Development Specialist at the East Asia Regional Department where he managed urban and regional development projects in the People’s Republic of China and Mongolia. He holds a master’s degree in comparative development research from EHESS (Paris School of High Study in Social Science), a master’s degree in human geography from Toulouse University, and a diploma in Chinese language and culture from Paris University.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

The Asian Development Bank is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance.

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