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Mongolia Needs Assessment and Response Plan – 2017/18, Dzud Emergency, June 2018

Publication date

1 Introduction

Local Emergency Management Agencies (LEMA) in Sukhbaatar and Dornod issued formal requests for assistance to the dzud in 2017-18, as outlined further below. Sukhbaatar and Dornod are two of the four aimags in which People in Need (PIN) is currently conducting ongoing Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programming through the project “Leveraging Technology and Tradition for Resilience (LTT4R),” implemented in partnerships with Mercy Corps and funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) division. These are also areas in which PIN has concentrated its efforts in past humanitarian relief programs.

The aforementioned requests issued by LEMA, the fact that Mongolia has been experiencing drought dzud related shocks since 2015, the conclusions of a Household Economy Analysis (HEA) (described in the context section), and the positioning of other international actors in Mongolia led the People in Need Mongolia Country Program to respond. PIN launched a Small-Scale Emergency Response (ER) in the areas in which they are conducting DRR activities in 2018. As of February 9, 2018, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) or the Government of Mongolia (GoM) had not yet issued a formal request for response. However, in line with lessons learned from previous dzud responses (such as the need for a timely response to protect livelihoods) and the information outlined above the PIN Mongolia Country Program began ER activities in their target aimagsfor LTT4R. This response consisted of the provision of animal feed kits including concentrated feed and micronutrient/multivitamin supplements for 415 households (1,478 individuals) and unconditional cash transfers for 444 households (1,529 individuals).

1.1 Context

Mongolia has one of the harshest climates in the world, characterized by a very brief warm season lasting about 2 months, and a long winter with temperatures reaching below -50°C. Approximately 46% of the country’s 3 million population lives in remote rural areas, and many are nomadic pastoralists. One-third of the population of Mongolia depends on raising livestock for their livelihoods, including their entire cash income and approximately 30% of the herder’s food source (FAO in PiN 2016).

Although herder households have traditionally well-developed mechanisms to survive the harsh environment, these have been exacerbated by political, social, economic and cultural factors, undermining coping capacity. The cyclical recurrence of the dzud phenomenon, a natural incidence specific to Mongolia, has also led to increased vulnerability.

Considered a slow onset disaster, a dzud is characterized by a summer drought followed by a severe winter in which temperatures and/or snow make grazing inaccessible or unavailable for livestock.
Mongolians further differentiate within the term dzud into several types, the most common of which is the “white dzud” in which the snow is particularly heavy, “black dzud” where the freezing temperatures lead to reduced forage, and “hoofed dzud” where livestock congregate in one location leading to over-grazing (Fernández-Giménez et al., 2012). In the frequent event that dzud is preceded by a drought, the impact is particularly grave due to a reduction in available grazing (Sternberg et al., 2009; Fernández-Giménez et al., 2012; Addison et. al, 2013; IFRC 2018). FAO has posited that the increased frequency is partly due to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which brings colder temperatures to the region (FAO, 2016).

The concurrence of these seasonal factors has a negative consequence on pastoralist livelihoods leading to shortage of feed for livestock due to a lower hay harvest, followed by inability of livestock to graze due to severe winter conditions. It also puts severe pressure on the population: with many roads blocked by heavy snow, remote populations cannot access soum (district) centers offering basic services (such as health, education, transportation). Unable to access local markets, remote populations face shortages of food and have difficulties coping with the extremely harsh winter. Such impact is exacerbated by man-made factors such as unsustainable pasture management, a lack of irrigation systems, inadequate winter hay and fodder preparation, and lack of winter shelters for the livestock.

Traditionally, dzuds occurred every ten years. However, recently due to climatic changes and manmade contributions, the frequency of dzud events has increased. In addition to the climatic factors mentioned above (ESNO – see FAO 2016), political factors such as the transition from a planned economy in which the livestock industry was managed by the state to a market economy and the withdraw of support from traditional pasture management services have impacted the ability of the population to cope with dzud, and especially that of the most vulnerable herders.