2.9mn heads of livestock dead in Mongolia’s “dzud” disaster

2.9mn heads of livestock dead in Mongolia’s “dzud” disaster
Millions of animals left with no grazing pastures have perished in the big freeze. / Severe Weather channel, YouTube, screenshot
By bne IntelliNews February 26, 2024

As many as 2.9mn heads of livestock are thought to have perished so far in the “dzud” weather disaster that has struck Mongolia, the country’s State Emergency Commission (SEC) revealed on February 24.

As Mongolia comes to terms with the still unfolding catastrophe, discussion has turned to how climate change appears to have intensified both the severity and frequency of dzud, a severe combination of a dry hot summer and icy winter that is unique to Mongolia and causes enormous damages to the nation’s nomadic herders.

Officials refer to historical records that show there were 15 dzud in the 18th century, 31 in the 19th and 43 in the 20th. In the past, therefore, dzud were predicted to take place every eight to 12 years. Now they are expected to occur every other year and the climate crisis is widely blamed as it is causing warmer and drier summers and harsher winters in Mongolia. An added difficulty is that unprecedented growth in livestock numbers that has been seen since the 1990s has led to overgrazing of pastures—thus when the dzud covers great expanses of grazing territory in snow and ice, herders are unable to find enough grazing plots for their animals, already weakened by extreme cold.

Authorities expect the already huge toll of dead livestock to continue growing. A plan to collect and dispose of carcasses in the spring before they rot and start spreading diseases is under preparation.

Herders make up about 40% of Mongolia’s population of 3.35mn. The rescue mission taking place amid the dzud not only involves deliveries of fuel, hay and fodder, it also entails clearing roads so that herders can move their animals to pastures less impacted by dzud.

Donations collected for the rescue initiative stood at Mongolian tughrik (MNT) 1.6bn ($473,000) as of February 24.