Archive for March, 2010

What’s a dzud?

Definition:  a natural disaster consisting of a summer drought, resulting in insufficient production of feed for livestock, followed by very heavy winter snow, winds and lower-than-normal temperatures. Unique to Mongolia, dzud results in frozen layers of ice that are impenetrable to the livestock and which isolate herders and villages.

Sheep in deep snow looking for food

Sheep in deep snow looking for food

Mongolia is currently experiencing a dzud.  This has been the coldest winter in 30 years. Winter temperatures have hovered around -30F to -40F below (40 below is the same in Fahrenheit and Celsius) with some reports down to -50F. The cold, combined with more snow than usual, has had a devastating effect on Mongolia’s herders comprising some 35 % of its populations In a country with some 42 million animals, over 3 millions have already died from starvation and cold.

Even the animals need coats

Even the animals need coats

One of my Mongolian friends who lives here in Muron has been spending a lot of time with members of his family who are herders in the countryside. As of a few weeks ago, near half of their 600 animals have died. In a normal year, they may lose a dozen. And it’s still not over. Now, the animals are giving birth, and spring’s cold winds, the lack of fodder and weakened animals will take the lives of more animals. I have culled my wardrobe and sent some bags of warm clothes to the herder families of some friends here in Muron. The U.N. and other agencies have been giving aid to help in various ways.

Flock of sheep seeking food and shelter

Flock of sheep seeking food and shelter

The last dzud was in 2001 but was not nearly so severe. During recent years, many herders have increased their flocks, especially the goats that supply cashmere, to increase their incomes. But that has also increased problems like overgrazing and the goats also damage the land by eating the roots, not just the above ground foliage. So the reduction of animals could be a good thing—except that a herder’s assets are almost all completely tied up in his animals. Some believe that many will give up herding and migrate to the cities where jobs are already scarce and that will cause further problem.

No matter how you look at it, it will be a challenging year for everyone.

P.S. Two new posts to follow soon…

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March 23, 2010 at 6:01 am Leave a comment


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