Red Cross Red Crescent launches emergency appeal to support Mongolian herders as severe winter conditions decimate livestock numbers

Published: 29 March 2010

Beijing/Geneva, 29th March, 2010. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an emergency appeal for 1 million Swiss francs (992,000 US dollars or 744,000 euro) to assist 3,400 herder families (13,600 people) in Mongolia, most of whom have lost all their livestock to extreme sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfalls.

The number of livestock that have perished since December has doubled in recent weeks to 4.5 million - nearly 10 per cent of the country’s animal population. The harsh conditions have been affecting 19 of Mongolia's 21 provinces since last December. The disaster is still unfolding as the cold and lack of food claims many newborn animals. Many nomadic herders coping mechanisms are exhausted as their way of life comes increasingly under threat.

Relief efforts by the Mongolian Red Cross Society, supported by the IFRC, are already well under way with distributions of food, blankets and warm clothing to 1,200 of the worst-affected families.

“The needs are steadily growing as more and more herders face up to the reality that many of their animals are dying. More and more people are left distraught and increasingly destitute,” says Ravdan Samdandobji, Secretary General of the Mongolian Red Cross.

Under the IFRC appeal, families will receive emergency food and non-food relief, assistance with restoring and diversifying their livelihoods, psychosocial support to cope with depression and stress, as well as health education on issues such as how to treat frostbite.

“This is a chronic issue that is having a long term social impact. We’re not just dealing with the immediate emergency, we’re trying to boost people’s ability to cope in the future. When you lose your animals you lose your livelihood and it can be a rapid slide into poverty without any support”, says Daniel Bolanos Gonzalez from the IFRC’s Asia Pacific disaster management unit. To help tackle some of these problems, the Red Cross will work with herders who have lost the bulk of their flocks to help them explore alternative livelihoods.

After the impact of previous weather extremes (Dzuds), the most severe of which struck the country between 1999 and 2003, hundreds of thousands of people have migrated to the bare hilly slopes of the capital’s outskirts, swelling the population to half of Mongolia’s 2.7 million inhabitants. At the time, the Mongolian Red Cross set up a social care programme to help support herders and other vulnerable populations who had been affected. It’s feared that thousands more internal migrants could follow in the aftermath of the current disaster, creating a growing range of needs that include food supplies for the most vulnerable families. The Red Cross will play an important role in helping migrant families to access government services.

There has long been concern that Mongolia’s livestock population of more than 40 million animals is well beyond sustainable levels. But this sudden loss of millions of animals has had a disproportionate affect on the welfare of the most vulnerable families with the smallest herds. The wider economy has also suffered in a country where animal husbandry provides 35 per cent of employment and represents 19 per cent of the GDP.