20 Million Mongolian Cattle Could Be Dead by Spring Due to Dzud (UPDATED)

What's dzud you ask? Well, it's the Mongolian word for the sort of weather they are now experiencing. Roughly translated by Shambala Sun, it's an unusually dry summer where there isn't enough grass growth to allow herd animals to grow strong, followed by an unusually cold winter (we're talking -55°F at times) with higher than normal snow. It causes huge numbers of cattle to die and brings misery and hardship to the families who herd them.

Worst Winter in Three Decades
This is the worst winter Mongolia has experienced in 30 years. Some 2 million domestic animals have been killed so far. The last time dzud conditions set in, 10-12 million animals died--and by all accounts this time things are much worse. Hence, predictions have been made that up to half of Mongolia's 40 million cattle may die by the time more temperature conditions take hold, in May.

Here's how the UN has assessed the situation's severity:


Compared with the same period during the last dzud in 2000-2001, dzud 2010 is much more severe in terms of the impact of the disaster on people and livestock, which comprise the backbone of the rural economy. The country's snow coverage is 90%, ranging from 20 cm to 50 cm, reaching 120 cm in the most affected areas. More snow can be expected. Over 70% of the country's territory was affected by drought last summer of 2009, which affected preparation of winter hay. The stocks of hay in the state emergency reserves are inadequate.

Three Quarters of a Million Mongolians Are Herders
Shambala Sun describes the human suffering,


Scattered across a country as big as Western Europe, some 750,000 Mongolians' livelihoods derive almost entirely from herd animals. A devastating dzud plunges tens of thousands under subsistence level, themselves risking starvation and illness. As in the last dzud, many families will migrate as economic refugees to the already grossly overcrowded capital. With no skills to apply to survival in an urban environment, desperation drives people to barely exist by picking through trash, begging (including even the smallest children, some of whom live on the streets even in winter), and prostitution. This degrading situation is often made even worse by domestically produced vodka that's cheaper than milk.
With the recent events in Haiti still fresh in your mind, I understand that it may be difficult to mentally and emotionally embrace another natural disaster (albeit a slow-moving one) with such devastating consequences, but please consider the call from Shambala Sun and Elephant Journal and make a financial donation if you feel compelled.

Both are recommending donations be made to the Cambridge Mongolia Development Appeal (CAMDA), which has been working assisting Mongolian herders since the last dzud. Shambala Sun's Konchog Norbu says, "Funds received now will go directly to providing fodder to the most desperate herders' animals, fuel for their gers [the Mongolia word for yurt] so their families can survive until spring, and any other that is necessary. Left over resources will be used of CAMDA's longer-term pastoral Mongolia development projects."

You can learn more about the situation and make donations here.

UPDATE: Human Action Compounded Problem?
A commenter on the original Shambala Sun piece comments that money won't help because,


The current disaster in Mongolia is entirely man-made and is a result of the fact that herd numbers were allowed to grow totally out of control resutling in severe overgrazing leading to desertification leading to massive die offs during an entirely predictable drought (which come at least once every 7 to 10 years)...From the period 1921 to 1990, the number of livestock in Mongolia never exceed 23 million. In 2009 it was close to 50 million. Totally unsustainable. Worse was that due to the greed of government and the herders themselves, the number of goats (which are a major cause of desertification) rose about 400 to 500% higher than recommended levels for an ecological balance.

Which well may be the case, but the importance of redressing this long-term condition doesn't change the fact that people and animals are suffering now. Is it more compassionate to let them all die now, in one fell swoop, or to give aid now and bring balance back more gradually so that the next time a dzud sets in things might not be so bad?

Source:by Matthew McDermott, New York, NY for www.treehugger.com
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