2016/2017 Dzud Emergency Response, Mongolia Needs Assessment and Response Plan

Originally published



Mongolia is facing the second dzud episode in a row after severe winter conditions in 2015/2016 that triggered an international humanitarian response. As a direct consequence in 2017, it is expected that thousands of households and their livelihoods will be in need of humanitarian assistance to alleviate the impact of the dzud on their lives (CERF 2016).

People in Need conducted a humanitarian needs assessments from 12th to 19th December 2016 in Dornod province in anticipation of the emergency response to support the most vulnerable herder communities negatively affected by this year´s dzud and at risk of having their livelihoods severely compromised or lost.

This needs assessment report outlines 1. the current dzud situation; 2. the needs of the most vulnerable populations and 3. a coordinated plan of intervention of PIN/CCR in three provinces of Eastern Mongolia planned to commence in February 2017.


Mongolia has one of the harshest climates in the world, characterized by a very brief warm season lasting about 2 months, and a long winter with temperatures reaching down to below -50°C. At the same time, 46% of the country’s 3 million population lives in remote rural areas,1 and among them the bulk are nomadic pastoralists. For those, livestock is the only source of livelihood, representing their entire cash income and contributing to approximately 30% of the herders´ food source (FAO in PIN 2016). Herder households have traditionally well-developed resilience and coping mechanisms to cope with the harsh environment, including the so called dzud.

The dzud phenomenon is a cyclical natural incidence specific to Mongolia. Considered a slow onset disaster, a dzud is characterized by a summer drought followed by a severe winter with dense snow, winds and abnormally low temperatures falling down to below -50°C (for more details on dzud causes and impacts see Figure 1).

The concurrence of these seasonal factors has a negative consequence on pastoralist livelihoods leading to shortage of feed for livestock due to a lower hay harvest, followed by inability of livestock to graze due to severe winter conditions. It also puts severe pressure on the population: with many roads blocked by heavy snow, remote populations cannot access soum centers offering basic services (such as health, education, transportation). Unable to access local markets, remote populations face shortages of food and have difficulties coping with the extremely harsh winter. Such impact is exacerbated by man-made factors such as unsustainable pasture management, inadequate winter hay and fodder preparation and lack of winter shelters for the livestock.

Traditionally, dzuds occurred every ten years. However recently due to climatic changes and man-made contributions, the frequency of dzud events has increased, and in the last three decades Mongolia suffered a dzud in less than every four years. The frequent recurrence of these events has had increasingly adverse effects on the herder populations, their livestock and their livelihoods. These repeated shocks rapidly erode their traditional coping strategies.

In 2009/2010 9.7 million heads of livestock (20% of the country’s entire herd stock) died as a result of severe dzud. As a consequence, 44,000 households lost their livelihoods and required international humanitarian assistance (World Bank, Lessons Learned from the Dzud, 2012 in PIN 2016). Dzud in 2015/2016 resulted in the death of 1.1 million livestock affecting 30,000 households (UNDP, CERF report 2016).

This year´s dzud is expected to be more severe compared to last year (for more details see Figure 3). Mongolia has now confirmed 127 districts (“soums”) in 17 out of 21 provinces as affected by a dzud condition. The situation has been gradually worsening since December 2016 and is expected to further deteriorate until February 2017 as the snowfall is likely to increase and temperatures decline (LEMA 2016).

The critical period will start in the end of January 2017 and can last up to mid-April 2017, until the households will start getting an income from cashmere sales and pasture for livestock will be more readily accessible.