More than 350 000 farm animals have died in a slow-moving natural disaster known in Mongolia as a "dzud," International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) reports.
"Dzud" is a clinical slow-onset disaster unique to Mongolia in which hot summer drought (resulting in extreme overgrazing) is followed by a severe winter and insufficient hay for winter grazing. This, coupled with heavy snows and freezing temperatures is causing large numbers of animals to die from starvation.
Parts of Mongolia are experiencing continuous heavy snowfall and snowstorms with average temperatures below 25 °C (-13 °F) during daytime and around -40 °C/°F during the night. More than 80 000 herder families (around 400 000 people) in the northern and western part of the country are at risk with millions of livestock facing starvation in the coming weeks and months.
More than 350 000 animals have already died according to the latest available figures from the U.N. mission in the country, IFRC said on March 18. For a country where a third of the population rely on livestock to survive it means many families are quickly going from affluence to poverty.
IFRC's East Asia communications delegate Hler Gudjonsson told AFP: "We're only about one-third through the disaster."
IFRC launched an emergency appeal for more than US $800 000 to assist around 25 000 vulnerable herders, but after more than two weeks has received less than half the goal, he added.
"We already knew this was going to happen in November, but we knew that there was no way we could raise funds for something that hasn't happened yet," Gudjonsson said.
"It's not a tsunami, it's not an earthquake and it's not a sudden disaster. It's a long-term condition and situation, so we don't have a breaking point where we can say, today this happened, and people suddenly need a lot of assistance."
Most of the people that rely on livestock to survive will be forced to move to tent districts on the outskirts of Mongolia's urban areas, living without even the basics and with little or no income.
IFRC warned that more than a million animals are likely to die before the end of May.
Featured image credit: IFRC