Humanitarian aid for the people of Mongolia affected by winter disasters (dzuds)

Originally published
Amount of decision: 1,000,000 euro
Decision reference number: ECHO/MNG/BUD/2004/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population:

1.1. - Rationale:

Mongolia continues to have large groups of vulnerable people whose lives are deeply affected by recurrent natural disasters. Instead of only addressing the humanitarian needs of these people after a crisis, it would be more effective to break the cycle of disaster and vulnerability through programmes aimed at helping them to better prepare for possible disasters.

Mongolia is located in a region prone to large scale natural disasters, of which the most damaging is the "dzud", an accumulation of drought and heavy snowfalls. But in the case of Mongolia, there is a correlation of natural components (summer drought and winter severe weather) and man-made components (lack of sustainable pasture management, lack of adequate numbers of pasture water points and wells, lack of adequate supplies of stock piled animal food, including hay and fodder and lack of winter shelters for animals) which reinforce each other. Summer droughts prevent a large number of herders from collecting hay in enough quantity for the winter which, in turn, starts earlier than normal, forcing herders to use their scarce stocks of hay and fodder as soon as September. Herders therefore quickly run out of hay and fodder while emergency stocks prepared by the Mongolian Government are usually depleted as soon as mid-January.

The occurrence of such disasters has recently increased due to climate changes and has had a very serious impact on the livelihoods of the herder communities. Mongolia has experienced four years of consecutive dzuds, whereas such disasters used to occur on average every fifty years before. This has had a severe impact on the traditional coping mechanisms of the population. In 2000, some 3,4 million animals have been decimated (10% of the total), 4,7 million in 2001 (15,7% of the total) and 2,9 million in 2002 (11% of the total). According to the Mongolian Red Cross, more than ten thousand families have lost all their belongings. There are at the moment a large number of herders with insufficient livestock to sustain their livelihood and remain food-secured. Past dzuds have resulted in an increasing rural-urban migration, especially towards the swelling suburbs of the capital Ulaan Bataar, where unemployment causes further severe destitution and result in basic humanitarian needs.

After four years of dzuds, the winter months of 2003 have turned out to be less severe, causing a comparatively smaller loss in the number of livestock (losses happen every year). Thus, although there are always some parts of the country that are subject to dzud, a countrywide dzud did not occur in 2003/2004 due to a good summer (no drought) and a mild winter. There are conflicting reports about the current situation, with different situations according to the provinces (aimags). Some provinces have received enough rain this spring but several others have suffered from drought until June, even if rain has come in July. This means that there might be a risk of dzud occurrence if the winter is early and harsh, due to the fact that in many places pasture vegetation will not have time to grow enough.

There are now an estimated 160,000 herders and some 25 millions animals, which is considered a reasonable figure in comparison to the mid- 1990's when there were too many herders after the privatisation of the cattle. However, they are still insufficiently prepared to deal with a potential new disaster.