Blizzards kill some 850,000 livestock and wreck livelihoods of Mongolian herders

The worst snowstorms in 30 years are causing catastrophic livestock losses in Mongolia this winter.
With temperatures of - 45=B0C at least 850,000 cattle, sheep, horses and goats are estimated to have already died in 12 of the country's 21 provinces. Reports reaching the UNDP country office indicate that some 15,000 cattle are dying daily. A further 500,000 livestock are expected to perish before Spring.

About 300,000 people, most of them herders and their families, are facing serious difficulties following the large scale loss of their animals. Livestock are the mainstay of the national economy and the sole source of food for herders and their families.

Early snows in September, followed a severe drought and an infestation of field rats which deprived livestock of fodder and weakened their resistance to winter, which is now in its fourth month of severe cold. The below-freezing temperatures are expected to last another three months. The loss of livestock is also depriving families of an important source of fuel for heat and cooking. Dried animal dung is a traditional fuel and some families are already said to be burning their furniture for warmth.

The government of Mongolia has appealed for international assistance, including food, clothes, medicines, and fodder for the surviving livestock. UNDP has allocated funds for the coordination of international aid and a UN disaster fact-finding mission led by UNICEF, toured disaster-stricken areas late last month.

The mission reported that winter food reserves are insufficient. Milk and dairy products - staple foods of the herder population - are unavailable, and fresh water is in scarce supply. The affected population is also without access to basic medical assistance because of the loss of horses needed for transportation to clinics.