Coal, food and quilts to relieve Inner Mongolia's bitter winter

Published: 24 January 2001

Nomadic herders in China's autonomous region of Inner Mongolia could face starvation unless aid gets to them quickly, the Red Cross warned today. Blizzards and bitter cold over the last few weeks have already caused the deaths of 39 people. Over 220,000 head of livestock - the mainstay of the rural economy and the main source of food for herders and their families - have also perished.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies today launched an appeal for three million Swiss francs to provide immediate supplies of food, quilts and coal to help 60,000 herders survive to the end of the harshest winter in 50 years. Ethnic Mongolian herders and their families have been worst affected by the disaster.

The Red Cross will target 60,000 people living in the three prefectures of Xilin, Chifeng and Xingan with emergency food assistance for up to four months. 5,000 families will be provided with coal as the bitter frost and loss of livestock has prevented them from collecting animal dung - the main source for heating in their traditional homes. The Red Cross Society of China has distributed a total of 1,700 quilts to those most in need.

"The Chinese Red Cross has already issued a national appeal for Inner Mongolia, but external aid is essential to see the herders through their hardship in the months to come," said Jim Robertson, regional relief delegate at the Federation's East Asia delegation in Beijing, who has just returned from the region following a joint assessment mission with the Chinese Red Cross.

A freak blizzard on 31 December 2000, that combined both snow and sand from the Gobi Desert, engulfed large parts of Inner Mongolia. The blizzard lasted up to 75 hours in some areas, and covered six of the twelve prefectures with snow measuring up to 50 cm in depth. The blizzard follows on a summer drought. Animals, already weakened by lack of fodder, are now unable to reach any grazing because of snow cover.

"Because of the nomadic nature of the herders, they tend to have reserves of food and fuel for only a few days. They rely heavily on bartering their animals to provide food and fodder, but with the freezing conditions and the lack of access to the main towns these necessities are rapidly running out," said Robertson. "Many have lost their entire herds of cattle."

Long range weather forecasts predict further snowfall over the next few weeks, and there is still three months to go before the weather will improve sufficiently for the herders to return to their normal pastoral way of life. hereFor further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

Beijing: Solveig Olafsdottir, information delegate,
tel: +41 79 217 3372

Jim Robertson, relief delegate,
tel: +86 136 01050424 (mobile)

Bangkok: Omar Valdimarsson, regional information delegate,
tel. +66 2 661 6933/ +66 1 823 9218

Moscow: Joe Lowry, information delegate,
tel. + 7095 766 4625 (mobile)

Geneva: Denis McClean, Head of Media Service,
tel: +41 22 7304428

Duty phone +41 79 416 3881