Launching Cash for Work - A first-hand look at the 2010 dzud disaster

UNDP is supporting the Mongolian Government to respond to the 2009-2010 dzud, which has resulted in 7.5 million livestock deaths by May. With support from the UN Development Programme,the herders are now part of a Cash-for-Work project which provides them with immediate income to take care of their daily necessities of life, while also reducing health risks by burying carcasses and preventing water contamination. With technical assistance of the National Emergency Management Agency, herders are removing and burying up to two million livestock carcasses. This accounts for roughly 30 percent of all the animals that perished.

Mr. Akbar Usmani, UNDP Resident Representative a.i.

Mongol Messenger Editorin- Chief, Borkhondoin Indra interviewed
His Excellency, Akbar Usmani, UNDP Resident Representative a.i.

-MM: Mr. Usmani, you just returned from rural Mongolia to get au fait with conditions there. We all hear and read about the desperate situation for herders and their families. What can you say about your countryside trip?
-AU: I have just returned from Uvurkhangai Aimag after five days in field. I also visited Khovd Aimag three weeks ago. I have seen the conditions and realities on the ground, and the effects of the dzud crisis are indeed being felt greatly by the communities In many instances, I saw that a large segment of the herder population had lost most, if not all their animals.
-MM: Can you compare the situation between Khovd and Uvurkhangai aimags?
-AU: Uvurkhangai is the worst affected aimag with losses of 1.4 million livestock. We are working in three aimags, Khovd, Uvurkhangai and Dundgobi. I have visited two aimags so far, and next week we will visit Dundgobi Aimag to see the impact of the work we are doing in support of government initiatives. Cash-for-Work programme is reaching 60 percent of all herder households in these three aimags. Through this programme, herders will bury 2 million carcasses, out of the total 7 million resulting from the dzud. It’s quite a large program which we have embarked upon in support of the government initiative. In total, 20,000 herders are being targeted, of which over 10,000 are in Uvurkhangai Aimag alone.
-MM: 20,000 herders. How are you dividing between soums and aimags?
-AU: Out of 20,000 beneficiaries, 11,000 herders are in Uvurkhangai Aimag, 3600 are in Khovd Aimag and 5,300 herders are in Dundgobi Aimag.

-MM: Are the aimags you visited still under snow or melted?
-AU: Parts are still under snow. In fact, while we were there, there was a very strong snow storm, and it was very difficult to move between soums. In number of instances we got stuck in the snow while traveling. It was only by the excellent efforts of our NEMA colleagues and our drivers that we got out in time. Snow conditions in some areas are still pretty serious and there are still snow storms coming.
-MM: Is it still difficult for livestock to graze in pastures?
-AU: It is very difficult. Low rainfall in summer followed with severe winter left very little pastureland available. I am pleased to say that our Sustainable Land Management for Combating Desertification project is assisting herders to fence hayfields for better risk reduction. Due to this initiative, herder communities involved in the project suffered very few losses. We acknowledge this best practice and will expand this initiative.
-MM: How much money is involved in this program?
-AU: That’s a good question. For the three aimags that the government requested UNDP assistance, we have already mobilized US$1.8 million and still have a shortfall of US$700,000 and we will be appealing to the international community to support this program and fund this gap. The other aimags are covered by NEMA and the government itself. The purpose of our program is two-fold. As you know, dzud crisis had devastating effects on herders’ livelihoods. Our program is there to provide Tgs 100,000 per herder in these affected communities. We are targeting herders with less than 200 head of livestock, households headed by women and other vulnerable groups that fall below poverty line. The importance of the program is that once the snow starts to melt we don’t want these carcasses to enter into water streams and the drinking water supply and result in a huge catastrophe for Mongolia. It’s important that we collect these carcasses far from water sources and bury them properly, sanitize them and at the same time give herders some financial support, assistance to take care of their immediate needs and necessities of life, such as food, medicine, children’s clothing, and some heating materials, just to get them over this very difficult period.
-MM: How the money can reach the herders?
-AU: We are collaborating closely with the Government and NEMA, as well as aimag and soum governors. The Government and UNDP attach importance to transparency and equal participation in the cash-for-work programme. Soum government has announced a list of participants on the Governor’s office board. The way the program works is that a soum governor consults with the local population to provide the list of beneficiaries. Out of total 51 soums in three aimags, 22 soums were most affected so we appointed a coordinator to help the governor to compile this list and also will be monitoring the work throughout. That list is reviewed by Khan Bank, who is a partner in this program, being the only bank with branches in all soums, and will be making the payments. Further, the list is verified at the aimag level by NEMA, by the aimag governor’s office, as well as by our aimag coordinator. The moment all these stakeholders sign off on this list, UNDP will make the payment to Khan Bank within 24-48 hours for the money to be disbursed to the herders directly. It’s a fairly participatory process in which we tried to involve as many stakeholders as possible. Various mechanisms have been put in place to ensure adequate transparency, such as posting the list of all beneficiaries in the soum governor’s office. So in case somebody’s been missed, they can appeal to the soum governor, can address NEMA, and even talk to UNDP staff. We have launched a very wide media campaign via television and radio so that as many herders as possible are aware of this program and can benefit from it.
-MM: Has this program already started?
-AU: The program is well underway. In all 51 soums about 70 percent of the work is completed. We are just waiting for the final signatures on who has done the work and how much money is due to each of the herders
-MM: When are you expected to finish?
-AU: We were hoping to finish this program by mid-May. But because of the soil conditions we might have to extend it by a couple of weeks. We are very aware that this should be done as early as possible before the possibility of these carcasses entering the water system and to provide cash assistance to herders because they are very much in need of financial support at this time. For us, as soon as the completion lists are verified by the stakeholders, payment will immediately be made. The money is already in the bank so there should not be a problem.
-MM: How are you going to monitor the work?
-AU: The monitoring is done at various levels. It’s done at the soum level, aimag level as well as the UB level. One of the reasons for my mission was to see for myself how this monitoring is being done. I must say that I was extremely impressed
by the commitment and dedication of the teams on the ground. In particular, I would like to highlight the contribution of aimag governors, deputy governors, soum governors, Khan bank and UNDP colleagues and teams who are working very hard and diligently to ensure that as many people as possible are supported through this programme.
-MM: How many people are involved in this project?
-AU: Cash-for-Work programme is top priority for the UNDP office, so we have mobilized most of our team. Wherever we are working in aimags and soums, I have asked our colleagues to re-orient programs so we support the herders that have been affected by the dzud crisis. Around 100 people from UNDP are involved in support of this program. Additionally, we have the
local government offices. So it’s quite a sizable campaign. I would also like to highlight the excellent contribution made by Khan Bank as their branch managers are working closely with us to identify beneficiaries. In certain cases there are duplications of names, errors and they have been working hard to ensure the final list is correct and as comprehensive as possible.
-MM: What was the demeanor of the herders and their families, because the loss of livestock is a big tragedy for these people? Are they hopeful or in despair?
-AU: During our mission we met many herders, young families, elderly people women-headed households and etc. There is great deal of despair because of the financial losses they have sustained in this dzud. At the same time they are very hopeful and looking forward to the future. This is where the international community and the UN need to come together to support alternative livelihoods and other sources of income for these herders.
-I have had many discussions with different stakeholders, including aimag and soum governors to try and forge a program quickly to provide the herders with not only shortterm cash-for-work programme, but also address longer term needs. We are very conscious that people are suffering, in many cases losing their entire livestock. It’s not a very happy picture. However, in instances where we worked with herder communities through SLM project, the losses were significantly lower. This was due to innovative measures taking place including fencing of hayfields where herders are sending their animals to feed in winter. We learn from this practice and will expand the programme in 2010.
-MM: What do herders think about this program?
-AU: I spoke with many of them and they very much welcome this initiative. They see this is as something that can take care of the immediate needs of their families. Although Tgs 100,000 is a modest amount, herders can use these funds to stock up on flour and rice for three months’ consumption. While they have lost their main source of income, they are very much looking forward to this cash payment.

UNDP Resident Representative met with Mr. Bazarragchaa at his ger in Zuunbayan-Ulaan Soum
to discuss the work of burying carcasses
Zuun Hooloi herder group members receiving coats and warm gloves donated by students of
Setgemj high-school in Ulaanbaatar.
Herder families in Baruunbayan-Ulaan Soum feel both hope and despair, but managed
to survive the harsh winter due to a good hay yield in their fenced field.
Herders in Zuunbayan-Ulaan Soum organized groups of 12 to dig holes and
bury carcasses

Herders moving dead sheep for burial
A herder near Otor lost most of his livestock despite all his efforts. Now, carcasses of the perished livestock threaten health and the environment as springtime temperatures warm.

Source: The Mongol Messenger newspaper
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