Since December 2009, Mongolia has been affected by a dzud. A dzud is a multi-faceted natural disaster characterized by a summer drought, in which insufficient fodder is available for stockpiling, followed by heavy winter snow and abnormally low temperatures. One third of Mongolia's population is dependent on livestock for their livelihood and lead nomadic lives. About 422,000 people are affected by the dzud, which accounts for more than a quarter of the rural population. Among those affected, an estimated 160,200 are children under 18 (including more than 44,000 children under 5 years old), about 8,200 are pregnant women, and more than 37,000 are 65 years old or older.
The Government of Mongolia (the government) has declared 12 aimags (provinces) to be in states of disaster in early February 2010. However, the situation is still very fluid and continues to deteriorate. Three additional aimags have subsequently been declared disaster areas as of 29 March 2010. There is significant variability in vulnerability across aimags, and in how the dzud is impacting the livelihood of people and the level of dzud response. The current dzud is expected to be more severe than the last one which occurred in 2001. The UN Resident Coordinator officially confirmed the scale and implications of the disaster, including an indication of the funding required to assist in alleviating its impact. The Government of Mongolia has requested immediate assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB)'s Asia Pacific Disaster Response Fund (APDRF).
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There is growing concern for the humanitarian impact on isolated herder families and inaccessible communities in these areas. Many herders and their families are currently in otor, with their livestock looking for better pastureland. According to a recent update from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), about 21,500 people from 7,700 households are in movement, out of which approximately 12,500 individuals have no access to medical assistance. In addition, about 20,000 individuals are suffering from food shortages and 9,700 families are lacking heating fuel. These households also lack access to medical treatment and facilities. Heavy snowfall and a lack of machinery to remove snow is obstructing the roads, making it difficult for assistance to reach families that live in remote areas. The situation has not improved with the arrival of spring. The number of livestock lost due to severe winter conditions has increased more than twofold during the last one-and-half months, and reached 5 million as of 29 March 2010. As it gets warmer, the removal of animal carcasses and disinfection of soil is needed to avoid soil contamination and reduce the risk of spreading infectious diseases.
The severe weather threatens nomadic herder families who are isolated and fending for themselves, often leaving small children home alone while lives are risked attempting to save animals. The families exhausted their resources of stockpile food and fuel for cooking and heating and the supplies in the aimags as a whole are limited. Over 831 pregnant women are known to be among the migrating herder families in the most affected areas. The previous practice of sending 60% of them to the aimag centre for improved medical care during delivery is no longer possible. Many aimags have limited medical facilities and none in the affected areas have the equipment and trained personnel to deal with complications during pregnancy and delivery, and newborn care.
The dangerous winter conditions have led the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (MECS) to delay a vacation, requiring children to remain in dormitories rather than face the extreme insecurity of trying to reach their families. In the most affected dormitories, children are living without heat or with limited heat. UNICEF and the MECS predict that there are approximately 22,200 children in 265 dormitories in need of assistance, with 600 children requiring urgent response. As the severity of winter conditions spreads across the country, as many as 492 dormitories will need assistance with more than 41,000 children in their care.
The livelihood of a large segment of the country's herder population is threatened. Learning from past dzud disasters, the short- and medium-term potential impact of the dzud on the livelihood of affected herders include (i) increased poverty for the large number of herders who lost their livestock, (ii) migration to cities in masses, (iii) increased unemployment, (iv) psychological stress, and (v) school drop-outs. It is estimated that 60% 70% of all herders own less than 200 livestock. This group is the most heavily affected by the dzud. The herders are using a variety of coping strategies to reduce their animal losses by providing hay and fodder, preparing special nutritional mixtures for weak animals, and keeping the animals inside of gers and in warm shelters. However, those strategies are not sustainable in the long run and can lead to large debts, sales of household assets, and exhaustion of people. Further strain will be placed on government budget as funds will be needed to restore livelihoods of the affected population.