Mongolia’s nomad herders facing winter disaster as temperatures plunge

Mongolia’s traditional nomads are facing a natural disaster known as “dzud”, where frigid temperatures and heavy snow cause widespread livestock deaths, threatening herders’ livelihoods.

Mongolians are already struggling with an economic crisis which has seen the currency, the tugrik, depreciate rapidly, making household goods more expensive.

Weather forecasts for next week are predicting temperatures as low as between minus 40 and minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 40-58 degrees Fahrenheit) in northern and eastern Mongolia.

Government officials have yet to declare a “dzud”, but the current climate is ideal for the natural disaster, said Lamjav Oyunjargal, the director for forecasting at the Information and Research Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment.

“Officially, conditions are very difficult in Mongolia. Mostly we talk about livestock because it’s the main income of herder people in Mongolia, but it’s also dangerous for humans,” Oyunjargal said.

Dulaamsuren, who works at the National Emergency Management Agency in Bulgan province in remote northern Mongolia, said more than 3,000 local herders did not have enough supplies to last through the winter.

“We have enough hay until February or March, but we really should stock up more,” he said, adding that the region was now under 40 centimetres (11 inches) of snow, four times the usual level.

The dzud of 2009-2010, one of the most severe in history, saw a total of 9.7 million livestock deaths. As many as 1.1 million heads of livestock died last winter.

Winter began early when Mongolia was hit by a “cold surge” in November, plummeting temperatures to around minus 47 degrees Celsius (minus 52.6 degrees Fahrenheit), she said. By December 11, about 70 per cent of the country was under snow.

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