Famine Looms After Mongolia's Brutal Winter

Peter Sharp, China correspondent

Across the frozen wastes of Mongolia, the worst winter in 30 years has killed more than one and a half million livestock and driven tens of thousands of nomadic herders into the cities as they struggle to survive.

More than four million livestock could die by spring as temperatures continue to plummet to lower than -58C, according to warnings from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Some 21,0000 herder families have lost more than half their livestock.

In a nation where more than a third of the population relies on herding for a living, tens of thousands are being exposed to "the spectre of famine", says the Mongolian Red Cross.

In the worst affected areas animal carcasses were found piled upon each other, frozen to death in their windswept pens.

Aid agencies reported that Mongolian herders and their families are physically and mentally exhausted.

Some 400,000 nomads, or 40% the herding population, in this landlocked country of 2.3 million people are severely affected.

"Short, medium and long-term solutions are needed if any sustainable lifestyle for any of those affected is going to be restored," a Red Cross report warned.

"Without our animals we have no life," said Nerqui Dorj. He wept as he skimmed his last dead sheep in one of the worst hit area of Dundgobi.

"I just don't know how we can imagine the future without our animals. Or how we can live."

The fierce weather is called "Dzud" which means "winter disaster" and this is one of the worst in living memory.

The temperatures have dropped so low that grazing livestock have been unable to break through the surface ice to reach the grass below.

They continue to die in their hundreds of thousands, starved and then frozen to death.



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