In one of the most sparsely populated regions of the world, the hardy inhabitants are fighting for survival.
Mongolia’s three million people and forty million animals are now being tested by a brutal winter that followed a drought last summer.
Tony Birtley of Al Jazeera English reports how grazing, the backbone of the country’s economy, is under threat.
Mongolia battles severe weather yearly, but this year, the UB Post reports that Mongolia is experiencing a “dzud,” which is a summer drought followed by an even harsher winter”
Before this winter (2009-2010), Mongolia had not experienced a dzud since early 2002. This winter, Mongolia is experiencing unusually cold weather with temperatures dropping well below minus 20 [-4 Fahrenheit] as early as mid-December. It is expected temperatures will fall to minus 48 [-54 Fahrenheit] as northerly weather brings bitter snow storms from Siberia.
Around 35 percent of Mongolia’s work force is dependent on herding for a substantial part of their livelihoods and about 63 percent of rural household’s assets are livestock; livestock herding accounts for about a third of employment in Mongolia. Food security is also worsening, poverty levels are likely to rise and these factors may cause an increase in rural-to-urban migration. Compounding the problem is the poor condition of many pastures as a result of last year’s drought and overgrazing. In addition heavy snowfall started earlier than usual in October 2009.
According to AFP:
More than 3.5 million animals — cows, sheep, goats, yaks, horses and camels — have died so far, with 60 percent of the country still buried under deep snow.
Hundreds of thousands of livestock have perished due to lack of nourishment because the winter weather has made the ground infertile. Dead livestock in the region poses a potential threat for disease and has already directly impacted the economic and physical conditions of the Mongolian nomadic peoples.
The United Nations recently launched a campaign to provide funding to clear out dead livestock. In an effort to boost economic livelihood as well as to avoid further disaster, The Guardian reports that many Mongolian nomads are being paid to clear out the dead livestock in the affected regions.
The United Nations has launched a $4 million dollar carcass-clearing appeal for Mongolia as millions of camels, goats, yaks and horses perish across the steppe from a climate double whammy of summer drought and winter snow.
The international body will pay nomads to collect and bury dead livestock to ease the risks of disease, soil contamination and a worsening humanitarian disaster in a nation where one-third of the 2.7m population depends on animal husbandry.
As an initial step, [the United Nations Development Programme] has allocated $300,000 and will raise more fund to pay herders $4 a day to clean and bury carcasses. Eventually, it hopes to reach 60,000 of the worst affected families.
– Stephanie Savage