Harsh Mongolian winter risks livelihoods of herder families

Harsh Mongolian winter risks livelihoods of herder families

BEIJING — Exceptionally cold weather in Mongolia is putting the livelihoods of more than 150,000 nomadic herders and family members at risk, just one year after another extreme winter killed more than 1 million animals, the Red Cross said Thursday, as it launched an emergency appeal.

Particularly vulnerable are families still suffering from the impact of last year’s “dzud” (pronounced ‘ZUHD), an extreme weather phenomenon unique to the country that is characterized by a summer drought and then a prolonged winter of heavy snow and temperatures of minus 40 to minus 50 Celsius (minus 40 to minus 59 Fahrenheit).

More than 40,000 cows and other livestock have already died this time, a figure that is expected to jump in the freezing months ahead and into spring when animals are still weak.

A dzud typically happens once every 12 years, but has struck for the second consecutive year this winter. The dzud last year killed more than 1 million livestock, which are the only source of food, transport and outside income for almost half of Mongolia’s population of 3 million.

Aid groups say the situation is compounded by last year’s harsh winter and a deep recession amid a market bust for the vast landlocked nation’s mineral exports.

Many herder families will lose their livestock and livelihoods “and will have no choice but to migrate to the slum areas on the outskirts of (the capital, Ulaanbaatar) and other urban centres where they will face great social and economic hardship,” said Gwendolyn Pang, head of the Beijing office of the International Federation of Red Cross.

The Red Cross said that 70 per cent of the country is covered by snow and 157,000 people belonging to herder households in 17 of Mongolia’s 21 provinces are at risk.

The agency appealed for $650,000 to help 2,740 most at-risk families.

The Associated Press

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