Description of the disaster
Dzud is a condition created by threat multipliers and inter-linked factors that exacerbates already fragile situations of livestock herders in Mongolia. This term is unique to pastoral communities in Central Asia and can be caused by a combination of summer drought, heavy snowfall, and high winds in concurrence with extremely low winter temperatures which combine to cause unsustainable conditions for animal survival. In this condition, mortality of the livestock is caused by a combination of starvation because of being unable to graze and access fodder due to heavy snow, ice or drought, freezing due to extreme cold temperature, exposure to storms and wind, and a weakened immune system response due to exposure.
A drought started in 2016 followed by extreme winter affected many vulnerable families living in the western and northern parts of Mongolia. In December 2016, there were 110 soums in 13 provinces, around 32 per cent of the total territory started to experience hardship. This situation had evolved to affect 157,000 people (approximately 37,000 herder households) across 127 soums in 17 out of 21 provinces in Mongolia as of February 2017. The livestock death toll reached to 133,900 affecting the most vulnerable herders across the 17 provinces. As of February 2017, around 70 per cent of the country was covered with snow, in some mountainous regions, snow has piled up to as thick as 50 cm. Shortage of pasture and water led to large scale livestock loss and in some areas, the ice crust formed made it difficult for livestock to dig through to reach grass. Approximately 16,000 households (10 per cent of total number of HH with livestock) with some seven (7) million livestock, moved to nearby soums and provinces seeking for better pasture.
There were several breakouts of livestock infectious diseases and those areas were quarantined, prohibiting animals to move from those locations. Having a vast area of land, herders live far apart from each other, some only having a neighbor in 10 km distance. The distance of herders from the soum center and the market range from as near as 5 km to as far as 110 km. Due to blocked roads, transportation is made extremely challenging. The Local Emergency Management continuously worked on clearing the snow from roads to make it possible for herders to pass through. Government was in need of graders, dozers, ambulance cars, police cars and fuel.
Due to inadequate preparedness of State, caused by budgetary constraints, the State Emergency Commission headed by the Deputy Prime Minister requested humanitarian actors to provide assistance to the Dzud affected herders in Mongolia on 15 December 2016. Shortly after this, the Government Task Force, together with the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) of which Mongolian Red Cross Society (MRCS) is one of the members, conducted emergency needs assessment.
While the price of meat, one of the main sources of income for herders, had declined to lowest levels due to oversupply, herders were in acute need of cash to be able to meet their priority needs including, but not limited to, food, basic household items, agriculture products and health care services. Because of the lack of financial resources to buy hay and fodder, herders were at high risk to lose their livestock at accelerating rates. The prospect of losing their livestock drove them to put even more livestock on the already severely saturated market, putting further downward pressure on prices. This combination of negative forces resulted in a vicious cycle of serious shortage of cash that is critically needed for immediate household basic priority needs.
The Mongolian government welcomed cash support to herders but had also reported an extreme shortage of ambulance vehicles and medical equipment to meet the needs for emergency transportation, and because of heavy snowfall and road blockages it had become extremely difficult to provide ambulance services in the northern and central parts of the country in a timely manner to save lives. Multipurpose unconditional cash grants to support life-saving basic needs, emergency agricultural inputs and first aid kits had been identified as priority needs by the Government task force and the HCT.
By June 2017, a total of 888,014 livestock had perished because of dzud. The extreme weather conditions continued throughout the summer of 2017. Around 80 per cent of the total territory or 94 soums were in drought, 153 soums were in drought-like condition.