UNICEF Mongolia leads a UN disaster assessment mission

28 February, Ulaanbaatar. A UN disaster fact-finding mission led by UNICEF Mongolia toured the disaster-stricken province of Dundgobi aimag [2nd level, provincial administrative unit] and five of its soums [3rd level, sub-division] of Saintsagaan, Luus, Delgerkhangai, Saihanovoo and Erdenedalai from 24 to 27 February, 2000.
In the summer of 1999, Dundgobi aimag was seriously affected by drought which led to poor forage conditions, thus depriving the herds of the necessary body weight to survive through the winter and spring. The winter has been severely cold especially in the first half of January 2000 and the cold spell is expected to continue until May. During this January, the aimag lost about 25% of its livestock (primarily sheep, goats, and cattle). Almost 50% of all the herds of the aimag, along with many herder families, have moved to distant pastures within the aimag or to the adjoining six aimags, where the pasture conditions are a little better.

The number of livestock lost in the aimag is expected to reach almost one million by June, as the animals are extremely weak to survive through the harsh spring. There are piles of dead animals along the road leading to and from the aimag to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, and almost no livestock can be seen in Dundgobi aimag. The situation could have serious negative implications on the health of the people. The herders have lost the source of their livelihood and will not have the possibility to barter their livestock for food and other basic commodities as they normally practiced. The depletion of the pasturage could also have long-term negative consequences on the ecological balance. Countless number of livestock are being grazed on pastures in other aimags and soums, which already have the problem of overgrazing.

Major threats to children and women in the coming months are the following:

  • Exhaustion of winter food reserves (dry meat) normally prepared by herders in later summer and early autumn.
  • Non-availability of milk and dairy products - a staple food of the herder population.
  • Fresh water in scarce supply.
  • Lack of food during next winter because of the loss of livestock.
  • Non-access to basic medical assistance because of the loss of the basic transport means - the horses.
  • Psychological depression of the herders and their families.

Unusual heavy and sustained snowfalls, the worst in Mongolia in 16 years, have already affected large areas of the country. The snowfall started abnormally in October and gradually built up, in some places the snow is 80-100 cm deep, with an underlying ice crust.

By 20 February, the disaster had spread to over 92 soums in 12 aimags. The worst hit areas are Bayankhongor, Dundgobi, Zavkhan. Ovorkhangai and Uvs.

Some 44,700 households (300,000 people), most of them herders and their families, are now facing serious difficulties following the large scale losses of their animals. At least 850,000 head of cattle, sheep, horses and goats have died.

About 15,000 cattle are dying each day. After a summer drought that seriously weakened their resistance, the herds are now unable to reach grazing pastures because of the thick snow cover and the ice crust. The current freezing temperatures (as low as - 40C in some areas) are expected to last another three months.

The mission made a report on its trip to the UN Country Team and OCHA Regional Advisor on 28 February, during which it was decided to send needs assessment missions to other disaster-stricken aimags in the coming days.

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