Federation steps up aid to frozen Mongolia

Published: 11 January 2001

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies today announced an increase in assistance to the frozen hinterland of Mongolia where 12.5 million livestock are at risk because of the extreme weather, threatening 250,000 nomadic families with destitution.

A joint Federation/ Mongolian Red Cross field assessment this week confirmed the deaths of thousands of animals in isolated communities. It also raised fears that the number of fatalities from cold and frost bite will rise as herders die in vain attempts to save livestock as isolated communities run out of fuel. Officially, the death toll stands at eight.

"We saw many animals covered in snow and ice, just frozen solid. We heard of two people who have been missing for four days looking for their horses. We heard of many cases of frostbite and saw one 13-year old boy with frostbite on both cheeks and patches of black skin," said International Federation delegate, Carl Pilkington, on his return to Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital.

The assessment mission took four days, including 14 hours of driving on trackless ice and snow to cover just 86 kms in the province of Gobisumber visiting nine scattered nomadic herder families living in winter tents. Night-time temperatures dropped as low as -50°C.

Pilkington warned: "It's a fate worse than death when people here lose their animals. The livestock are people's lifeline. They trade them for food, to send their kids to school, to pay for health care. It's the foundation of their society."

The Federation is to release another 300,000 Swiss francs in the short-term to augment four million Swiss francs already spent on meeting the needs of 6,300 herder families who lost everything in last year's severe winter and the subsequent summer drought. The Federation is also participating in a UN needs assessment due to get under way at the end of the week.

The Mongolian Red Cross expects today to reach two communities in Zavkhan which have been cut off from the outside world since November with 120 tons of food and clothing. Another convoy, carrying 538 tons of aid, is being assembled to reach the far east of the country in the coming weeks but it could take 25 days to reach its ultimate destination. For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

Denis McClean, Head of Media Service, Geneva Tel.: +41 22 730 4428
                                                           Mobile : +41 79 416 3881

Marcel Fortier, Desk Officer, Federation, Geneva Tel.: +41 22 730 4222