Severe snowstorms, freezing temperatures may force Mongolian herders into cities

By Chi-Chi Zhang (CP)
BEIJING — Blizzards and freezing temperatures that have killed more than a million livestock in Mongolia could force thousands of herders to migrate to shantytowns near the capital of Ulan Bator, an international aid group said Thursday.

Extreme winter weather that began in December has continued to trouble the poor landlocked country sandwiched between China and Russia, following a summer drought that prevented farmers from stockpiling food for their livestock.

Heavy snow and temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees (minus 40 degrees Celsius) have affected 19 of Mongolia's 21 provinces, with more than 14,000 Red Cross volunteers across the region scrambling to deliver food to impoverished herders who have lost their livestock.

"Although some of the roads are being cleared, freezing temperatures combined with the lack of health care and poor infrastructure makes the situation for animals and people very vulnerable," said Francis Markus, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross East Asia.


Video footage taken by the aid group showed dogs and birds gnawing on the carcasses of dead sheep. Markus said there could be potential health problems once the remains of the livestock thaw out.

Snow-covered roads have hampered efforts by Red Cross volunteers to reach 1,500 people to deliver enough flour, sugar, oil, felt shoes, blankets and other essentials to last the next three months, Markus said.

The United Nations warned on Monday that the extreme winter weather is likely to harm the country's food supply and worsen poverty.

Since more than a third of Mongolians herd livestock for a living, the loss of livestock could mean an increased rural to urban migration for thousands of families seeking new means of income, Markus said.

Mongolian government reports put the number of dead livestock at about 1 million, but some unofficial reports say the figure is closer to 2 million, Markus said, with worries more may die as freezing temperatures are forecast to last until as late as March or April.

Mongolia borders China's northwestern Xinjiang region, where the bad weather has killed 20 people, according to a Xinjiang government Web site.

More than 1.6 million people have been affected and shortages of grain and fuel have also been reported in Xinjiang, where 100,000 homes have been damaged. Continuing harsh weather has also closed fishing harbours in eastern China.

It is the harshest winter in decades in parts of northern China, with Beijing this month receiving its heaviest one-day snowfall in 59 years.

Copyright © 2010 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

Source:The Canadian Press
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