Ulan Bator's explosive growth has left new residents without affordable housing, meaning 60 percent of the city lives in tent settlements off the grid.

Mongolia, a country with one of the world’s fastest growing economies, is also the least dense, with 2.8 million people spread out over an area approximately three times the size of France (slightly over 600,000 square miles). Each year, between 30,000 to 40,000 people migrate to the nation's capital, Ulan Bator, home to more than half of Mongolia's population.


View Larger Map

More than half of Ulan Bator's residents live in "ger" districts, where there's no access to basic public services like roads, plumbing or electricity. In the winter, residents burn coal and trash to stay warm, which can produce pollution bad enough to cause problems at the airport's air control tower.

"Ger" refers to the round tents synonymous with Mongolia's nomadic traditions. Thanks to Ulan Bator's lack of affordable housing, they attract a surprising range of inhabitants. Many residents, in fact, have a steady income. According to a World Bank report, unemployment in ger districts is slightly over 62 percent.

Reuters photographer Carlos Barria documented life in Ulan Bator's gers. Below, what he discovered:

A boy walks at an area known as a ger district, where some residents live in traditional Mongolian tents, in Ulan Bator June 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria) 
Gers, traditional Mongolian tents, stand next to houses in an area known as a ger district in Ulan Bator June 26, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria) 
A crack is seen in the wall of a ger in Ulan Bator June 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria) 
A boy walks along a street next to a ger in Ulan Bator June 26, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
Children play near gers in Ulan Bator June 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
Baljirjantsan Otgonseren, 32, stands inside her family ger in Ulan Bator June 26, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
Baljirjantsan Otgonseren, 32, stands outside her family ger in Ulan Bator June 26, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
An area known as a ger district in Ulan Bator June 28, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
A child stands next to a ger in Ulan Bator June 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
A ger stands near a busy street in downtown Ulan Bator June 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of the interior of a WeWork co-working office.
    Design

    WeWork Wants to Build the ‘Future of Cities.’ What Does That Mean?

    The co-working startup is hatching plans to deploy data to reimagine urban problems. In the past, it has profiled neighborhoods based on class indicators.

  2. An illustration of a private train.
    Transportation

    Let’s Buy a Train

    If you dream of roaming the U.S. in a your own personal train car, you still can. But Amtrak cuts have railcar owners wondering if their days are numbered.

  3. Equity

    How Poor Americans Get Exploited by Their Landlords

    American landlords derive more profit from renters in low-income neighborhoods, researchers Matthew Desmond and Nathan Wilmers find.

  4. A photo of a new subdivision of high-end suburban homes in Highland, Maryland.
    Equity

    Unpacking the Power of Privileged Neighborhoods

    A new study shows that growing up in an affluent community brings “compounding privileges” and higher educational attainment—especially for white residents.

  5. Design

    Cities Deserve Better Than These Thomas Heatherwick Gimmicks

    The “Vessel” at New York’s Hudson Yards—like so many of his designs—look as if the dystopian world of 1984 has been given a precious makeover.