Photographer Brings Mongolian Addicts to Light
Mikel Aristregi documents homeless addicts in Ulan Bator, where the cold forces them underground.
Spanish photographer Mikel Aristregi documents the plight of homeless addicts in Mongolian capital Ulan Bator, in a photo exhibition profiled by the New York Times. With winter temperatures often reaching -40°, the homeless seek refuge from the cold in underground tunnels. "Underground, bunch of men and women crowded around the heat of the hot water tubes that cross the city," Aristregi writes on his website, "They are alcoholics; they live buried even before they’re dead." Aristregi, 37, says he initially went to Ulan Bator to photograph street children, but he found that the city has many more homeless addicts than kids. "The problem of the street children had been more or less eradicated because of the work of many international and local groups,” he explains, "But nobody was taking care of those people." Alcoholism affects 22% of men and 5% of women in Mongolia, according to a 2006 World Health Organization study, but they receive little help from the government, and resources are limited. Many drink 200-proof alcohol, which is so strong it is also used to clean engines, Aristregi reports. He plans to return to Ulan Bator to photograph the hospitals and detention centers where some of the homeless end up, so as to make people across the world aware of the severity of the problem.