Save the Children (UK) Emergency Unit Statement: Mongolia

Report
from Save the Children
Published on 23 Mar 2000
A fifth of Mongolia's population, 500,000 people, face serious food shortages after more than 1.4 million livestock perished in snowstorms this winter. So far, only isolated shortages have been reported. But the loss of animals, combined with fast depletion of food reserves, suggest that serious shortages will occur in May.
Livestock deaths represent 5 per cent of the animal population; more are expected to perish in coming weeks as severe conditions continue. Herders have moved a further 2.2 million animals to pastures outside their normal grazing areas, placing an additional burden on families there.

The worst winter weather in 30 years combined with a drought last summer and years of environmental degradation have caused the climatic disaster, known as a 'multiple dzud'. The worst-affected areas are the central, western and north-western parts of the country.

Key issues affecting children

Many families in Mongolia depend on their livestock for food (meat and milk), transport and fuel. In addition, animal sales are an important source of income and animal products are used to make clothes and shoes. The animal losses will therefore have a severe impact on household food supplies and income, particularly in remote areas.

Children, along with other vulnerable groups such as the elderly and the unemployed, are particularly susceptible to food shortages. In addition, nutritional levels have been falling in Mongolia over recent years following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the introduction of a free market.

Food shortages are also having an impact on health, making children more vulnerable to infections. With animals gone, families are unable to travel to health centres, which in any case are short of medicines and equipment.

Reports from the UN suggest that children are now 'dropping out of school at an alarming rate'. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Situation Report No. 6, 15 March 2000 Their families can no longer afford stationary or walking boots, and many students are staying at home in order to care for sick livestock. In addition, many school hostels are short of blankets, sheets and basic medicines.

Save the Children's Response

Save the Children is distributing fuel (7 cubic metres of wood and 5 metric tonnes (MT) of coal), food, boots and stationary to children in schools and dormitories in Bayanhongor province. The food includes 4.5 MT of flour, 1.8 MT of rice, 350 kg of dried milk, 600 kg of sugar, 92 litres of oil and 120 kg of tea. Gers (tents) are also on standby and can be sent to overcrowded schools, if needed, within 7 days.

Over the coming months, a Save the Children nutritionist will monitor the impact of the emergency on children and make recommendations for nutritional support. The organisation is also working with the Ministry of Education and local education authorities to plan special summer schools for children forced to drop out over the winter. The need for more community welfare workers, who can help prevent further school drop-outs, is also being assessed. Save the Children has allocated an initial grant of $40,000 for this emergency work.

Save the Children has been working in Mongolia since 1994. Its long-term development programmes focus on support for vulnerable children, the development of a national kindergarten programme and training for Mongolian School Social Workers.