Mongolia is a landlocked country between Russia and China, located in Eastern Asia. In terms of administration, it is divided into 21 provinces (Aimags), which are further divided into 329 rural districts (Soums), and 1,568 sub-districts (Baghs). However, of the 1,564,116 km2 of land that the provinces cover, very little is arable; 75% of it is dominated by semi-arid grass steppes (similar to prairies) (Fernandez-Gimenez, et al., 2015). Mongolia is also regularly affected by climatic extremes and severe weather. The temperatures may reach -50°C degrees during winters, hence granting the capital Ulaanbaatar, with the reputation as the world’s coldest capital city.
Mongolia is also one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, susceptible to dzuds, dust storms, droughts, floods, wildfires and earthquakes (CFE-DM, 2018). Of these, dzuds (severe winter colds and/or heavy snow associated with large-scale livestock losses), droughts and fires have caused catastrophic damages due to their complex interaction with the steppe ecosystems and livelihoods. In 2010, the country was hit by a dzud which dropped the temperatures rapidly below -30°C and blanketed 90% of the country in heavy snow (Save the Children, 2010). This caused the loss of approximately 8.8 million animals as they froze to death or could not graze (see figure 2). In 2018, another severe dzud killed 700,000 heads of livestock (Davaasharav, 2018).
Due to the harsh environment and the present natural ecologies hindering traditional agriculture, Mongolians have historically opted for nomadic pastoralism, as herds are mobile and more resistant to weather. Animal husbandry has always had a large impact on economy, employment and export income (figure 3), and the sector still employs 29% of all working age populations (National Statistics Office of Mongolia, 2019). However, hazards such as the dzuds, droughts and fires have been shown to increase in intensity, thus compromising the traditional lifestyles of the people. As a result, many are turning towards other sources of income such as mining and manufacturing (figure 4). The government’s official development strategy for the future largely relies on utilizing the country’s mineral riches.