Mongolian herder Munkhbat Bazarragchaa adds two sheep to the pile of dead animals behind his ger in Khuvsgul province, northern Mongolia. Photo: IFRC via AFP

Thousands of Mongolian herders face disastrous livestock losses from dreaded severe weather known as the “dzud,” the Red Cross said Thursday in launching an international emergency aid appeal.

Landlocked Mongolia is grappling for the second straight year with losses from dzud conditions — a dry summer followed by bitter winter cold that threatens tens of thousands of herders in a country where almost half the population depends entirely on livestock for food, transportation and income, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

Cattle, sheep and other animals usually die en masse in the dzud, weakened by insufficient summer grazing that prevents them building up the fat reserves necessary to withstand winter temperatures, which can plummet as low as -50 degrees Celsius.

“In spring, animals give birth and when the livestock are already exhausted from the winter they are at high risk without adequate feed, shelter and veterinarian care, which does not exist in some remote areas of the country,” Nordov Bolormaa, secretary-general of the Mongolian Red Cross said in a statement.

As of early February, more than 42,546 livestock animals had already perished in the current dzud, the statement said, citing official Mongolian figures.

“This figure is expected to grow exponentially in the months ahead when a long harsh spring takes hold after the extremely cold winter,” the Red Cross said.

It added that more than 157,000 people are “at risk” across 17 of Mongolia’s 21 provinces.

Hundreds of thousands of livestock are reported to have died in the 2015-16 dzud. A 2009-2010 dzud brought the most severe winter in memory, leaving frozen animal carcasses strewn across pastoral areas.
At least eight million livestock animals died, according to official estimates.

Thousands of Mongolia households lead a nomadic existence as herders amid Mongolia’s vast plains and mountains, and recurring dzud conditions are blamed for forcing many into a marginalized urban existence in Ulan Bator.

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