A severe and prolonged cold spell in Mongolia – known as the ‘dzud’ – is taking a deep toll on rural livestock herders

Familes are struggling against the devastating consequences of extreme winter weather. With cold freezing water sources, and snow covering grazing areas, their herds are dying of cold and malnutrition.

In the heart of the dzud-affected region of Sukhbaatar Province in Mongolia, families that rely on livestock herding to survive are watching in despair as they witness their animals perish by the day due to cold and excessive snow cover.

The Khurelbaatar family, for example, has been heavily hit by this year’s unprecendented dzud. The family of five has seen their once-thriving herd reduced from over 400 animals to less than 100.

The ground is completely blanketed by thick snow, which undergoes a daily thaw-freeze cycle, creating icy conditions that damage animal hooves,” says Khurelbaatar B, a herder of Sukhbaatar province.

Starved and exhausted pregnant ewes are particularly vulnerable,” he adds. “Without assistance, many succumb overnight, often several at a time. Simply moving them and providing hay or fodder is likely not enough due to their weakened state.”

The father in a family of five, Khurelbaatar, points out a particularly sombre spot near his house, where in heartbreaking silence lay the carefully stocked carcases of the animals that succumbed to the harsh winter conditions. Most herder households in the area have a simlar spot.

While Khurelbaatar is eligible to receive a government disability subsidy of about CHF 80 per month, the loss of the family’s livestock has resulted in a significant decrease in their assets and income.

The shortage of cash has hindered their ability to purchase food and basic items, leaving them struggling to repay the bank loan they took to buy hay and fodder for their animals.

To alleviate the immediate crisis, the family received an animal care kit and bought hay with the multi-purpose cash assistance provided by the Mongolian Red Cross Society with funding from the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance of USAID. The hay will sustain them for three weeks.

During a recent visit, a Mongolian Red Cross team provided a tarpaulin donated by the Korean Red Cross, to serve as a roof for the couple’s animal shelter. This shelter can hopefully protect the remaining livestock from the bone-chilling winds that plague the region.

The family remains determined and resilient, but challenges remain. Unsure of how they will overcome their current struggles and meet future obligations, this household faces uncertainty.

The IFRC, Mongolian Red Cross and our partners are committed to supporting families like these throughout their journey to recovery. The IFRC has released CHF 500,000 from DREF fund in early February and launched an Emergency Appeal for CHF 4.5 million on 15 March 2024.

The crisis is impacting large areas of the country. The Tumurzurkh family in Dornod province, for example, started experiencing heavy snowfall and extreme cold since November 2023.

The family is residing in a modest winter house with one room and a small kitchen area.

With no running water, they rely on a nearby well for their water supply. Access to the well had been blocked by snow for an extended period, however, and as a result, the family faced the arduous task of melting snow to provide themselves and their livestock with drinking water.

With 400 animals at the start of the winter, the family had experienced gradual losses due to the challenging winter conditions. They’ve lost more than 70 livestock already and are losing an average of 1 to 3 animals daily.

Both the husband and wife receive a state pension. However, they also carried a bank loan with a high interest rate. Now they are uncertain about how they will make the upcoming payments.

The family expects to receive some hay and fodder support from local authorities but this has not been provided so far. To be able to continue to feed their livestock, they had to purchase hay and fodder, but that was expected to last only for a couple of days.

The family expressed hope that the snow would soon melt, allowing the grass to grow and the animals to graze naturally. They longed for a return to more favorable conditions that would mitigate their daily losses. However, the reality of their situation was evident as we witnessed the accumulation of deceased animals near their home, awaiting collection by the government.

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