This article was written by Sister Andersen and was published in the January 2010 edition of Mongolia Mission Moments.
In Mongolia this winter we are experiencing a natural disaster called a zud or dzud. There is no English equivalent for this Mongolian word. Zud results from one or a combination of phenomena: a very cold winter, a summer drought, an impenetrable ice cover and/or heavy snowfall occurring on the winter pasture lands.
A zud causes livestock to die from starvation and cold. Some parts of Mongolia experienced heavy rain and flooding this past year, however the areas most vulnerable to zud experienced a summer drought. The tall grasses which the herders would have cut to feed the animals through the winter were not available.
Additionally the animals were not able to build up their strength by eating well through the summer months. In an ideal Mongolian winter summer fattened animals will push aside a thin layer of snow with their front hooves to forage on the dried grass below.
At the end of January much of the countryside was covered by heavier than usual snow. Temperatures have been unseasonably cold, dropping to -40 C and below. Mongolia has 3 million people and 42 million livestock. A third of the people in Mongolia live a nomadic herder lifestyle. Herders are dependent upon their animals for food, transportation and heating.
It can take 5-10 years for a family to recover from a bad zud year. As a result many will migrate from the countryside into towns and cities where unemployment is already a big problem. Newspapers have reported that 1.9 million head of livestock have frozen and starved to death already due to the freezing weather and heavy snowfall.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 21,000 families have lost over half their herds of 100-300 animals. Many of these stricken herders have been cut off from necessary supplies due to poor road conditions. Zud has been described as being like a slow moving train wreck, with the most devastation occurring in April. It is estimated that livestock losses could reach 4 million by Spring.
The Church is helping in several ways. We are contributing money through the Ministry of Education to help repair broken heating systems at school/dormitory complexes which house the children while their parents travel with their herds to remote areas for the winter.
We are contributing money to the State Emergency Commission for the purchase and delivery of food, clothing, medicine, candles, fuel and hygiene items for herder families. We are also contributing to a government sponsored program to purchase meat that was slaughtered and frozen by herders last fall in anticipation of a harsh winter for distribution to families who are suffering from lack of food.