A dzud is a summer drought followed by early and heavy snowstorms with temperatures falling way below average, freezing to death already malnourished animals. It differs from other natural disasters in that is slow to become evident and takes a lengthy duration as opposed to 'rapid onset' disasters such as flash floods, mud slides, tropical storms, hurricanes, earthquakes that usually happen with little warning, A dzud may not have an easily identifiable beginning and its impact may not be immediately visible on the human population. Therefore, dzud is also described as a 'creeping disaster'. However, it can be triggered or aggravated by rapid onset hazards like snowstorms and blizzards and Mongolian herders watch helplessly the suffering and death of their animals from starvation and freezing.
Severe dzuds historically occur at least once per decade and usually herders have in subsequent years been able to recover their herd numbers. However the repeated severe drought/dzuds cycles experienced in the last four years have overwhelmed the traditional coping mechanisms, which has lead to alarming rises in annual livestock mortality, with the inevitable destitution of herder families.
Livestock mortality has been extremely heavy and another poor breeding season is being experienced. The already serious level of destitution amongst herder and rural families will increase without urgent assistance. Over 395,000 people in 13 provinces (16% of the total population of Mongolia) are affected by food shortages in the immediate term and by the loss of their livelihood in the longer term. Productivity of individual livestock is low and it is estimated that herders require between 200 and 300 animals to maintain a sustainable herd. In practice, families in many areas have a herd size of less than 100 animals. Those hardest hit by the severe conditions often have far fewer animals remaining and are close to or have been forced to abandon herding. The Dzud has obviously affected their food and livelihood security with many being compelled by destitution to move to towns or soum (village) centres to sustain their lives.
In response to this disaster, World Vision Mongolia held an assessment in coordination with the Asia Pacific Regional Office in the worst affected provinces of Erdenet and Darkhan. As a result, four different response proposals have been prepared and presented to support offices which will allow WV Mongolia to respond to this crisis of winter survival for many poor families in our sponsorship communities.