Climate Change Impacts on Health and Livelihoods: Mongolia Assessment

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Mongolia already has encountered and will continue to experience significant warming and drying as a result of the climate crisis (certain). Temperatures are rising faster than the global average (certain). This is already being felt by communities across Mongolia, challenging traditional pastoralist–herder lifestyles and catalyzing a strong rural-urban migration trend. The higher temperatures are likely to increase the frequency and severity of heatwaves and droughts, especially in the south and south-west. Seasons will become more pronounced (highly likely) and the peculiar and uniquely Mongolian phenomenon of the Dzud, which creates drought-like summer conditions followed by extremely cold, harsh winters, will become more frequent and fiercer (highly likely). Extreme rainfall will become more intense and more frequent, with more rain falling during very wet days, and this may translate into increased intense rainfall-linked extreme events such as landslides, flash floods and land erosion (highly likely). The impacts that these changes will have on livelihoods and health, without substantial global action and national adaptation, are significant.

Climate change has the potential to trigger wide-ranging and strong negative feedback loops between livelihoods and health. The impacts of rising temperatures, changes in rainfall, more winter snowfall and mounting pressures on water resources all negatively affect the traditionally important agricultural sector and especially livestock herding.
The Dzud, in particular, can cause catastrophic loss of livestock in the harsh winters, which hugely affects rural incomes and has ramifications throughout markets creating price spikes and supply gaps. The increased frequency and intensity of natural hazardrelated disasters like the Dzud, intense rainfall, heavy snowfall, dust storms and floods resulted in a doubling of the damage to livelihoods over a 20-year period (UNDP 2019). Pasture degradation has been increasing in recent years across the country following worsening droughts, higher temperatures and the drying up of water sources. With the majority of the population overwhelmingly dependent on their livestock, climate shocks have led to declining incomes due to a decrease in the weight of the animals as well as in the yields of wool and cashmere.

Climate change will impact human health directly through more extreme weather events such as the Dzud, which has been linked to reduced growth in children. It also increases the incidence of respiratory illnesses as people remain indoors burning coal – a necessary measure to ward off the extreme cold, but one that intensifies their exposure to indoor air pollution. Climate change will also indirectly impact people’s health through environmentally mediated changes, notably, the growing risk of zoonotic or tick-borne diseases. The proximity of pastoralist-herders to their livestock as they range across pasturelands, hosting natural reservoirs of serious diseases (such as Plague), highlights the importance of One Health approaches. Whilst undernutrition is not a major issue, micronutrient deficiencies are high across the whole population and especially in children. As climate change continues to catalyze rural-urban migration, urban populations increasingly consume abundant highly processed, low quality, cheap food contributing to the high burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). A number of gaps were found related to the impacts of climate change on mental health, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and on water quality and supplies and how this relates to the health of pastoralist herders.