Mongolia: snowfalls

Field situation
An official of the State Civil Defense Board and State Emergency Commission (SEC) provided the following summary of the situation. The Government has rated present circumstances as the worst disaster in 30 years. Summer drought in 1999 covering a swath across the middle of Mongolia from NW to SE contributed to poor grass conditions that left herds without the needed body energy reserves heading into winter. The pasture conditions also needed by livestock for winter grazing and forage were decimated. In mid-September aimags along the western edge of the Hangai mountain range were hit by early snowstorms which reached depths of 1 meter in parts of Bayanhongor aimag. Twenty-four heavy snowstorms have occurred in the affected areas during the present winter. In the Gobi region the threat is primarily from the lack of grass and forage. Eighty soms in 12 aimags are designated emergency sites. The Government is presently measuring the impact almost exclusively on the basis of the number of dead livestock. More than 1.3 mln animals are estimated to have perished as of 1 March, 2000. Many households have already lost 60-70% of their herd numbers. To date very limited information has been obtained on the human impact of the disaster. Three herders are reported to have died in the search for missing animals. No answers were given on questions about maternal child morbidity or nutritional dynamics in the affected areas. At times food was mentioned as a priority and at others it was said that food would not become an issue until the Spring (April/May). Currently there is no clear estimate of the actual needs - it was said that quantification would begin in March. The loss of animals has apparently had a deep psychological impact on households, but the implications for this were not clearly delineated.

Relief efforts

The State Emergency Commission stated that it was coordinating aid provided by the Government or received from the private sector and public, including in-kind and cash contributions. The SEC has three priorities: 1) immediate delivery of essential food and hay; 2) support to service delivery; 3) rehabilitation efforts. During the medium and long-term the Government wishes to attack the problem of steppe rodents which have aggravated the decimation of the grassland. The Government has instructed all soms currently housing Internally Displaced Herders to provide medical care free of charge. Mongolemimpex, the national drug concern, has provided essential drugs to assist with influenza, ARI, and nutritional supplements for the elderly. The list of supplies was determined based on presumed rather than confirmed needs. In response to questions on schooling for affected children the SEC official said that the Government was interested in preventing dropouts due to the disaster. Many displaced herder children have been left with family members in som and aimag centers while their parents have migrated to distant areas in search of relief for their herds.

In general, numbers on impact or the size and specifics of the relief effort were no available. In part this seemed to be a reflection of a significant lack of data.

A working group in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare under the Director of the Strategic Planning department was established in mid February. The aimag public health centers have been directed to focus on the disaster and physicians have been dispatched to the most affected areas with drugs. The Civil Defense Board is directly handling in-kind assistance in the form of drugs. However, the Ministry is overseeing the medicines to ensure that the correct types are deployed. The primary weakness in the health and social welfare sector is the lack of a qualified information system. Where there is available data from the aimag level it often lacks focus or is poorly organized.

A variety of NGOs reported on the livestock situation based on observation at project sites. In terms of relief support many were providing inputs of hay and forage to the som level. ADRA was about to receive US$60,000 in relief funding and was planning to invest it in hay and other supplies for one som of Dund-Gobi aimag which is one of the hardest hit areas in terms of livestock losses. The Mongolian Red Cross had US$23,000 in relief assistance funding that it had been dispersing to the most affected areas. It is also expecting 800,000 Swiss francs in support to cover an additional 2600 households spread across 30 soms in five aimags. The Red Cross complained that the SEC was poorly coordinating the relief efforts at present. Some supplies were being distributed by politicians to locations without a clear link to a relief strategy. It is felt that use of relief assistance had become in some cases a political tool with the national elections just four months away. None of the present agencies currently supplying aid were aware of the efforts of the others or of Government assistance that might also be directed to the same areas.

The meeting’s participants discussed the value of the present strategy of emergency hay and forage support given the near terminal weakness of many herds in the affected areas. The debilitation of the animals has been building over the last seven or eight months and injections of food at this point are unlikely to reverse the effects. The spring season is a time for calving and milking (milk is a staple in the Mongol diet) the success of which is dependent on the adequate strength of animals passing from the winter months. The cost of delivered hay and forage will in many cases outweigh the actual market value of the animals being served, and for some these funds would be better used for restocking of herds in the spring with new animals. It was mentioned that for the Mongolian herder it is not generally considered an option to allow their animals to die in anticipation of receiving fresh stock later. This psychology and relationship between the herders and animals is a sensitive issue affecting the prioritization of the relief effort.

In a further development this afternoon UNDP informed that OCHA has approved an emergency grant of USD30,000 for local purchase of relief items and/or logistical support. The Governments of Norway and the United Kingdom have provided US$30,000 grants each. Altogether, after deduction of handling costs, OCHA has mobilized US$88,250 in immediate funding assistance for which a plan must be submitted within ten days.

Proposed Follow-up

Given the lack of clarity in the current distribution and value of relief support as well as poor information on the present or projected impact of the disaster on children, women, and other vulnerable groups the following urgent actions are proposed:

1) Immediate recruitment of a local consultant to assist UN efforts to improve the use of field data for decision-making and support coordination of assistance. Ideally this local consultant would be paired with a resident international volunteer or consultant to enable rapid conversion of information into useful English

2) Immediate collection of all existing data on the disaster sites and planned or provided assistance from agencies and organizations within the network of partners known to the UN system should be undertaken.

3) Immediate follow-up with the State Emergency Commission to solicit details on current relief assistance.

4) Immediate development of a rapid assessment tool outlining key information/indicators required from each sector. UNICEF, WHO, & UNFPA should help the MOHSW disaster working group to quickly organize its monitoring tool for distribution to the aimag public health centers. The recently established internet connections in all aimag public health centers must be mobilized for rapid information dissemination/collection. This link can be augmented by continued use of telephone follow-up as necessary. Where relevant use of community health volunteers may be beneficial to gain a better understanding of household situations and to deliver aid. As of this afternoon UNICEF has advocated and received confirmation of the formation of a similar working group at the Ministry of Science, Technology, Education, and Culture to assess the impact on school children.

5) Determination of additional logistical support needs for aimag officials to carry out monitoring and service delivery should be undertaken in conjunction with aimag governors’ offices and relevant aimag health and education authorities.

6) Aimag and som profiles should be prepared immediately (deadline for first draft 25/2) and updated regularly.

7) UNDMT disaster assistance plan to be prepared by 25/2 for discussion and on-forwarding to OCHA by 28/2.

Participants to the meeting agreed to action on recommendations one and two and follow-up is underway. Further follow-up on the additional proposals made herewith is needed.

Loss of livestock as of 1 March 2000