Mongolia's Dzud Crisis: Impacts, Causes, and Response Efforts

Livestock covered by snow during Mongolia's dzud crisis, illustrating the impacts of extreme winters on the country's herding communities
Understanding Mongolia's Dzud Crisis: Impacts, Causes, and Response Efforts

The ongoing "white and iron" dzud in Mongolia has reached a critical level, with over 90 percent of the country facing high levels of risk from this unique weather phenomenon. Dzuds, extreme winters characterized by freezing temperatures and heavy snow, pose significant challenges to Mongolia's herder households. This article delves into the definition of dzuds, their impacts on Mongolia's economy and society, the factors contributing to their frequency and intensity, and the response efforts underway to mitigate their effects.

What are Dzuds?

Dzuds are extreme winters unique to Mongolia, characterized by freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall, and frozen ground that prevent animals from accessing pasture. They often occur following dry summers when livestock are unable to build up fat reserves. Since 2015, the frequency and intensity of dzuds have increased, attributed to worsening climate change impacts and poor environmental governance.

Impacts on Society:

This winter's dual "white" and "iron" dzud has had profound effects on Mongolia's economy, culture, and lifestyle. With deep snow cover preventing animal access to grass (white dzud) and a freeze-thaw cycle turning pastures to ice (iron dzud), over 64 million animals have been affected. Additionally, heavy snow obstructs roads, limiting access to health, nutrition, education, and social services, impacting over 258,000 people, including over 100,000 children.

Impacts on Children:

The dzud crisis disproportionately affects children, with over 100,000 children among the impacted population. As herder families struggle, children face increased risks and psychological stress, often separated from their families as parents seek alternative arrangements for their care.

Response Efforts:

In response to the crisis, the Mongolian government activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and designated leadership to coordinate the response. International organizations, such as UNICEF, have dispatched health, hygiene, and child protection kits to affected provinces and are procuring additional supplies. Efforts are also underway to ensure continuity of education through the distribution of portable audio devices with lessons for remote learning. Urgent humanitarian assistance and sustainable solutions are being called for to support rural communities facing the brunt of the dzud crisis.

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