Mongolia: Snowfalls Appeal No. 5/00 (revised)


Severe snowfalls in large areas of Mongolia following the worst drought in 30 years have caused the death of over 1.7 million livestock, the mainstay of the rural economy and the main source of food for herders and their families. Over 395,000 people in 13 Aimags (16% of the total population of Mongolia) are affected by the food shortages in the immediate term, and by the loss of their livelihood in the longer term.

Previous dzuds, as these disasters are called locally, in 1944 and 1967/8 killed 32.2% and 11.9% respectively of the total herds in Mongolia. The government forecasts that the 1999/2000 dzud will be even more severe.

In order to respond to the growing needs, the Federation is increasing the amount sought for this appeal from CHF 815,000 to CHF 4,062,000, to extend the operation from three to twelve months and increase the number of beneficiaries from 30,000 to 35,000.

The government and the Mongolian Red Cross Society (MRCS) have already distributed emergency supplies in the worst affected areas, drawing both on funds received from the Federation's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) and goods donated locally. The MRCS\Federation has now completed its first distribution of a supplementary food ration to 2,600 households and a distribution of boots to 600 households in six Aimags.

The Disaster

Unusually heavy and sustained snowfalls, the worst in Mongolia in 16 years, have affected large areas of the country. The snowfall started abnormally early in October and gradually built up: in some places the snow is 80 - 100 cm deep, with an underlying ice crust. By 22 March, the disaster had spread to over 152 Soums (counties) in 13 Aimags. The worst hit areas are Bayangkhongor, Dundgobi and Zavkhan, Uverkhangai, Tuv and Uvs.

Some 71,800 households (approximately 395,000 people), most of them herders and their families, are now facing serious difficulties following the large scale losses of their animals. The Federation appeal is designed to assist the most vulnerable among them.

Latest events

The situation of the nomadic herders in Mongolia looks set to deteriorate even further as large numbers of livestock continue to die and dried winter food stocks for the herders start to dwindle. The current disaster is now being described as the worst in the last 30 years, and is being called a 'multiple dzud' -- a combination of harsh snow and winter conditions and a drought in the preceding season. The morale of the herders is extremely low and many are exhausted, physically and emotionally, from the long searches for their animals and the resulting losses.

In addition, weather conditions are worsening: up to 40 centimetres of snow were recorded in the Aimags of Uverkhangai, Arkhangai, Bulgan and Khuvsgul between 14 and 16 March. It is estimated that some 395,000 people are now affected. Temperatures have dropped 5 - 10° Centigrade below the winter average, and have reached - 46° Centigrade in some areas.

The latest statistics from the Government's Civil Defence Department, for the period up to 15 March, show that livestock deaths have now risen to 1.7 million in 13 Aimags. Horses and cows have been the worst affected so far but huge losses of goats and sheep are anticipated in the lambing season as many animals will be too weak by then to give birth or to feed their lambs or kids. Loss of goats and sheep means a loss of the principal source of food and a main source of income in terms of wool and cashmere.

Statistics alone do not tell the whole story: the effects of these losses are greater on those with smaller herds. Those with under 100 head of livestock -- 54% of all households -- are considered to be the most vulnerable. A serious 'dzud' such as the current one reduces their herd to a size that cannot generate sufficient income or resources in terms of meat, milk or dung to sustain a household.

The death of so many horses in the most severely affected areas is seriously hampering transportation and communication. Given the often isolated locations of the herders, the loss of horses means that people are unable to reach health centres, children are unable to get to school, the transportation of goods has come to a standstill and the isolation of the affected communities increases.

The loss of cows has far reaching effects, the most immediate of which is the loss of dung, the principal source of heating fuel during the cold months. The main source of food for the herders during the summer months is milk products, but with the dramatic shortage of cows, sheep and goats, there will not be enough milk for the summer months, let alone for preparations for the winter months.

While the herder population in Mongolia moves throughout the winter in search of fresh grassland, there has been an abnormally high movement due to the harsh winter and lack of grazing. In all, 13,170 people with 2.2 million livestock have moved to areas outside their normal grazing areas, placing an extra burden on areas not directly affected by the emergency.

A lack of gasoline and fuel, unreliable telephone connections in rural areas and roads blocked by snow are making it extremely difficult to get up to date information on the situation and to reach the herders. The situation will deteriorate with the onset of spring when the herders' winter food reserves will be exhausted and the animals will face the harsh spring wind and cold with inadequate fodder.

Consequently, the MRCS\Federation plan to extend their support beyond the scope of the initial Emergency Appeal, which aimed to provide support to 30,000 people over a three month period. The extended coverage will take into account a detailed assessment of the situation between April and June to ensure that the most affected households are identified to receive a further supplementary food ration to carry them through the next winter.

Red Cross/Red Crescent Action

Phase 1: February - mid March 2000

Plan of Action 1

Originally, Plan of Action 1 was intended to provide 2,200 households (16,250 people) in 5 Aimags with a supplementary food ration of 50 kgs. of flour and 25 kgs. of either rice or millet. An additional 400 households in 4 Soums in Tuv Aimag have been included, bringing the total number of households to 2,600 ( 19,100 people), as shown below.

Number of Soums
Number of Households

Between 15 and 19 March, distributions of wheat flour and millet or rice took place, benefiting all 2,600 families. Monitoring of the distribution has already taken place in Tuv and the newly appointed Federation delegate visited Dundgobi last week. The MRCS appointed senior members of staff to the six Aimags involved to oversee the procurement of the relief supplies and the distribution process. Many herders have had to walk long distances in search of their animals, particularly with the loss of their horses, and many households have worn through their boots and lack the funds to replace them. The MRCS has identified 600 households in Dundgobi, Zavkhan and Uverkhangai Aimags which will each receive one pair of boots. These were procured in Ulaan Baatar and transported to the Aimags for distribution.

Plan of Action 1 (phase 2)

The second phase of Plan of Action 1 will cover the remaining 11,000 people originally included in the Emergency Appeal: they will receive a supplementary food basket before the end of April when herders' winter reserves are expected to run out. This plan will be based on the information collected from the recent MRCS assessment in the affected Aimags.

In addition to launching its own appeal amongst volunteers, members and supporters, the MRCS has received funding directly from international sources. This will be used to provide medicines, food, warm clothes and other basic relief supplies to Aimags which have not received any assistance so far. Red Cross volunteers in the Aimag branches have assisted with the distribution of relief to the most vulnerable. Together with the Aimags' own Emergency Commissions, they have collected statistics on the most vulnerable in each Soum, so that assistance can be immediately distributed to these targeted families. During the distributions, the local Red Cross members and volunteers collect all the documentary records required by the MRCS Headquarters.

Federation Delegation

A senior Federation liaison delegate spent over three weeks in Mongolia working closely with the MRCS on the initial planning and implementation phases of Phase 1 and developing an extended programme of support for those affected.

A Federation field delegate from the Japanese Red Cross has now arrived in country to oversee the completion of the first phase of the operation and the planning and implementation of Phase 2. Support is also being provided by the Federation Regional Office in Beijing and the Federation Regional Delegation in Kuala Lumpur.

Government Action

On the 11 February 2000 the Mongolian Government made an official request to the United Nations for international relief assistance.

Through the Government's State Emergency Commission which is co-ordinating the emergency relief assistance, affected Aimags have received cattle fodder, fuel, medicines, foodstuff, warm clothes and relief supplies. National and local emergency commissions have been set up to distribute relief aid. Measures have also been taken to ensure that herders have access to health services and medical supplies. The government has instructed all soums that are housing 'internally displaced' (i.e. those who have moved outside their normal migratory areas as a direct result of the dzud) to provide free health care. The government acknowledges that it is financially unable to meet the current urgent needs.

Other Agencies' Action

Since February, the United Nations Disaster Management Team (UNDMT) have carried out two separate missions to the most affected Aimags to assess the situation and to identify the immediate relief needs. OCHA's Regional Disaster Response Advisor for Asia has been charged with co-ordinating the UN response. The UN has also set up a website to provide up to date information on the progress of the disaster and relief activities.

World Vision Mongolia and Adventist Development Relief Agency in Mongolia carried out a joint mission to Uvs and Zavkhan Aimags at the beginning of March.


At national level, the State Emergency Committee (SEC) co-ordinates all national relief efforts. The close linkage between the SEC and the MRCS will ensure that assistance received through this appeal will be carefully co-ordinated with government and NGO efforts.

At local level, the Chairmen of the Soum Red Cross committees are often the Presidents of the Soum citizens' Khural or assembly. They are therefore familiar with the living conditions of the local herders and can ensure that aid received is distributed fairly, based on needs.

The Intended Operation

Assessment of Needs

A number of assessment teams from the MRCS headquarters in Ulaanbataar have travelled to the most badly affected Aimags in recent weeks. Using the information gathered, plus disaster reports from the Red Cross Aimag branches, the Society has compiled a complete assessment of the situation, containing detailed statistics on the worst affected Soums within the six Aimags of Dundgobi, Bayankhongor, Zavkhan, Uverkhangai, Tuv and Uvs. Given the dramatic rise in the number of people affected by the disaster, it became evident that a increased response was needed to assist the Mongolian Red Cross in its plans to target the most vulnerable herders with basic food assistance.

Latest statistics showing losses in the worst affected aimags - based on survey figures ( March 15)

Number of affected soums
Number of dead cattle
Number of affected households
Number of affected people

Immediate Needs

Phase 1 - April to September.

Food: With the loss of their herds, many herders have lost their main source of food. The total affected population of these six Aimags is over 330,000.

Winter boots: Many herders have had their horses die in the disaster and are forced to search for lost animals on foot. Reports indicate that many families have only one pair of boots left for the whole household. The MRCS therefore sees the provision of replacement boots as a priority.

Anticipated Later Needs

The full extent of the disaster will only be fully apparent when the snows melt and access to some of the more remote areas is easier. An operational review will carried out by the National Society and the Federation in the summer in order to fine-tune the aims and implementation of the operation.

Red Cross Objectives

  • To ensure the rapid mobilisation of national and international resources to provide immediate assistance;

Phase 1:

  • April - September: To provide a total of 35,000 beneficiaries in the six worst-affected Aimags with complementary emergency food assistance for a 180-day period
  • To provide winter boots to 8,000 households in the six aimags
  • To provide 6 local vans to assist the MRC with monitoring and micro - distributions
  • To reinforce the capacity of the local aimag branches by providing faxes and radios
  • To reinforce the staffing levels at both HQ and aimag level during the course of the operation

Phase 2:

  • October 2000 - March 2001: To provide the 35,000 beneficiaries with complementary winter food rations for a further 180-day period.
  • To continue to assist the MRC with its staffing needs to adequately manage, monitor and distribute the relief goods.

National Society/Federation Plan of Action

Emergency Phase

Phase 1: February - March 2000

The MRCS is currently utilising stocks held or being collected in Ulaanbaatar as well as using the Federation DREF allocation to purchase food and other essential relief materials to alleviate the worst effects of the disaster. Funding generated within the country has also been used help to bridge the gap.

April - September 2000

The MRCS will supply supplementary emergency food to 35,000 beneficiaries in the six Aimags of Dundgobi, Bayankhongor , Zavkhan, Uverkhangai, Uvs and Tuv for a 180 day period. Each person will receive the equivalent of 350 gr. of wheat flour and 50 gr. of millet or rice per day, giving 1,230 Kcals per person per day. The total amount of food needed is 1,890 MT. of wheat flour and 315 MT. of millet or rice.

In addition, 8,000 households in these same Aimags will receive one pair of boots each.

Further plans of action, matching funds mobilised by this appeal with the specific needs at the time such funds arrive in Mongolia, will be developed to allow more deliveries of basic relief supplies to the worst affected areas.

Phase 2 - October 2000 to March 2001.

Food. Assistance will clearly be needed for selected families for a further six months. A further distribution will supply 2,520 MT. of wheat flour and 315 MT. of rice or millet to a maximum of 35,000 beneficiaries. This represents 1,580 Kcal per person per day.

Logistics and Procurement

Distances of Aimags from the capital:

Ulaanbaatar - Dundgobi: 260 kms
Ulaanbaatar - Bayankhongor: 630 kms
Ulaanbaatar - Zavkhan: 1,000 kms
Ulaanbaatar - Uverkhangai: 450 kms
Ulaanbataar - Uvs: 1,336 kms

The Federation will seek tenders from within the country as well as in neighbouring countries,.

Capacity of the National Society

The MRCS has 21 Aimag branches and an extensive nation-wide network of grassroots volunteer groups in each of the Soums. The Society has 240,000 members throughout the country. It has small disaster preparedness warehouses in many of the Aimags.

The MRCS has a dedicated team of relief staff at its HQ in Ulaanbaatar with experience in relief operations. The existing staff within the HQ will be strengthened to ensure the operation is run efficiently. Operational procedures are in line with those required by international donors.

Present Capacity of the Federation

The Federation's office in Mongolia, which is staffed by two Mongolian national staff, has been reinforced by the assignment of a field delegate. The Federation's Regional Office in Beijing, will provide support to the relief operation, as will the Regional Logistics Delegate in Kazakhstan, the Federation's logistics service in Geneva, and the Regional Information and Finance Delegates in the Federation's Southeast Asia Regional Delegation in Kuala Lumpur.

Monitoring and Reporting

The Relief Co-ordinator of the MRCS and the Federation field delegate will carry out monitoring missions to the Aimags to ensure the operation is running to plan.


The deteriorating situation and the increasing numbers of people affected by the ongoing disaster make it essential to expand the scope of the present operation and dispatch relief to beneficiaries as rapidly as possible. This appeal is in respone to the worst snowfalls in Mongolia for 30 years. The massive loss of livestock, which forms an essential means of survival for the herders, has been catastrophic. Funding is urgently needed to assist the Mongolian Red Cross in its efforts to reach the most vulnerable victims of the disaster. Donors are therefore urged to support this appeal accordingly.

For further information, please contact Marcel Fortier, Desk Officer, on +41 22 730 4268 (e:mail:

Didier Cherpitel
Secretary General

Margareta Wahlström
Under Secretary General,
Disaster Response & Operations Co-ordination

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