Thursday, April 25

Severe Mongolian winter kills more than 5 million people

A particularly brutal winter in Mongolia has left much of the country’s pastures frozen and covered in snow, starving or freezing millions of animals and upending thousands of lives in a country where a third of the population depends on livestock and farming to earn a living.

This year brought the most snow in 49 years in Mongolia, and the death of more than 5.9 million livestock, the worst death toll since 2010, international humanitarian groups said this week. Even though the harshest weather conditions may have passed, an estimated 60 million animals are at risk of starving until new grass sprouts in May, putting the future of ranching families at risk. .

“The worst is yet to come,” Tapan Mishra, the top United Nations official in Mongolia, wrote in a statement. report this week. “The peak of livestock mortality is expected at the end of April.”

This mortality is caused by a weather event known in Mongolia as dzud, where a dry summer is followed by a harsh winter that brings deep snow and bitter cold, blocking pastures under ice. These deaths can be devastating for families and for the country’s economy, 13 percent the main part of which is agriculture, mainly livestock.

This month, Evariste Kouassi-Komlan, UNICEF representative in Mongolia, spent nearly three days traveling from the capital, Ulaanbaatar, to a remote village in the west to deliver medicine. His SUV often got stuck in the snow. Outside each house, called a ger, he found up to two feet of snow and piles of frozen animal carcasses.

“Some breeders lost all their animals,” he said in an interview. “All.”

In eastern Mongolia, Shijirbayar Dorjderem, 48, said he lost 800 head of cattle this year out of the 1,000 he inherited from his parents. And this, even after buying thousands of packets of fodder and several tons of wheat, with money borrowed from a bank to feed them during the winter. He said it wasn’t enough to fill their stomachs.

“All I think about is my bank loan,” he added, fearing that the bank would take away the rest of his cattle. “I almost lost everything.”

His province, Khentii, was one of the hardest hit by the dzud. Its deputy governor, Oyunbold Lkhagvasuren, said the winter had been “unforgiving”. About 45 percent of the livestock died.

Mongolian herders are no strangers to harsh winters. Temperatures can drop as low as 40 degrees below zero, leaving livestock to freeze to death while standing. In 2010, the dzud killed more than 10.3 million head of cattle, or 25 percent of the country’s herd, according to the The United Nations.

But the increasing frequency of extreme weather events has made the lives of breeders more precarious. Droughts, dust storms, heavy rains and floods all tripled over the past decade, as temperatures in Mongolia rise twice as fast like the world average. While dzuds took place about once every 10 years, this year’s was the fifth in the last decade.

This year’s dzud, which began in November, left more than 7,000 families In Mongolia, the lack of food is sufficient as the livelihoods of thousands of herders, who depend on cattle, goats and horses, are threatened, the International Federation of Red Cross Societies and of the Red Crescent.

More than 2,000 families have lost more than 70 percent of their livestock, the organization added, calling for help. The snow also buried more than 1,000 homes.

The Mongolian government raised its disaster preparedness level to “high alert” in February and delivered hay, fodder, food, gas and medical supplies to its children. But humanitarian organizations say more needs to be done. The United Nations has declared $6.3 million was necessary for the response.

Mr. Kouassi-Komlan, the UNICEF official, said the snow had isolated families, including children who had missed weeks of school. For breeders, it could take between five and 10 years to rebuild their herds, he added.

“It’s a big disaster for these families,” he said.