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Severe winter devastates Mongolian herder families

16 April 2010

Herder sits with a dead animal© InfoA particularly severe winter in Mongolia is having a devastating impact on more than 12,000 people from herding families, whose entire reserves of livestock have died in the harsh conditions.

These livestock are the primary source of income and food for nomadic families, and as a result thousands are struggling to survive. The impact on the country’s vital livestock reserves has increased dramatically in the past month. In March, the government reported the overall number of deceased animals increased from one million to 4.5 million in less than a month, and now stands at around 10 per cent of the country’s total livestock.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has released £65,000 from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund and issued an emergency appeal seeking £645,000 to support 13,600 beneficiaries for six months.

Red Cross support

The British Red Cross has also released £45,000 from its Disaster Fund which will support the Federation appeal, but more money is needed to help the Mongolian Red Cross provide food and non-food relief items, such as blankets and medical supplies.

More than ninety per cent of Mongolia is affected by this severe winter, which is compounded by dzud, a natural occurring phenomenon resulting from continuous heavy snowfall combined with extreme cold and preceded by dry summers.

Pete Garratt, British Red Cross disaster response manger, said: “The current conditions mean there are insufficient grazing pastures for the nomadic herding community. The large-scale death of livestock is undermining the welfare of herder families and their ability to produce food and make a living. 

Protecting household incomes

“We’ve sent two delegates to Mongolia who specialise in working with households when their income and ability to get food is affected by a crisis. The delegates will talk to the herder families and work with them to find out what they need to buy or do in order to get back on their feet as quickly as possible.

“Depending on the assessments this may result in the families being provided with assets or cash to help them recover their livelihoods.”

Facing trauma

The government has declared a national disaster and reports 133 districts across 19 of the country’s 21 provinces are suffering from the harsh conditions with up to 507,000 people affected. It has appealed to the local and international community for food, medical and heating supplies as well as funds to procure fodder for livestock.

According to the World Bank, animal husbandry accounts for around 35 per cent of employment in Mongolia and there is evidence of increasing destitution. The most vulnerable herder families, with limited available resources, are facing difficulty in securing adequate food to feed their families and fuel to heat their gers – traditional felt tent homes. This is compounded by the increasing costs, reported to be three times the normal price, for the limited supplies of animal feed, transport and machinery.

There have been reports of herders taking their own lives, emphasising the trauma faced by this vulnerable population. In addition to helping families recover their livelihoods, the Red Cross will also provide psycho-social support to help families deal with the traumatic situation.

Read about the Red Cross social care project in Mongolia

A donation from our Disaster Fund has been made in response to this crisis. Contributions to the Disaster Fund will not be used directly in response to this disaster, but will be used in response to other emergencies in the future.


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