Saturday, December 28

Ulaanbaatar Ger District

Zud (Mongolian: зуд) is a term for an extremely snowy winter that follows a summer drought. Livestock cannot find what little grass there remains under the snow and ice, and large numbers of animals die due to starvation and cold. The last major zud was in 2009-2010; the yurt-belt surrounding Ulaanbaatar swelled up in the year that followed, as pastoralist life finally collapsed for many in Mongolia, due to the hardship of the zud, the growing desertification of the steppe, the erosion in cashmere prices through oversupply, and the increasingly bright lights of a boomtown riding on commodity prices.

From a Feb 2010 news article:

When even Mongolians complain, you know it's cold ... 

Officials in Ulaanbaatar, the snowbound capital, have declared disaster status in more than half of Mongolia's 21 provinces, and more are set to follow across the vast, sparsely populated nation, roughly the size of Alaska.

After weeks of heavy snowfalls, fierce winds and temperatures as low as minus-58 degrees, 2.3 million livestock have perished and an additional 3 million may die by spring, according to the Mongolian government.

Mongolians use the term "dzud" for the combination of summer drought and severe winter that has hardened snow and ice into an impenetrable layer and makes it impossible for livestock to feed.

"The snow and cold are the worst I have ever seen," surpassing the last major dzud in 2000-2001, says Nyamaa Delegnyam, 48, foreign relations officer for the Khovd province in western Mongolia.

The human cost among Mongolia's population of 3 million remains difficult to quantify because of inaccessibility and limited communication. But infant mortality in the 12 hardest-hit provinces jumped by up to 60% in January compared with the previous five-year average ...

Another report later in the year says:

It took 14 days for Erdenebileg's family to drive what remained of their flock the 300 miles from southern Dundgovi province to a bleak hillside in Töv province, close to the city. Once, they enjoyed "a pretty decent life", selling cashmere and spare animals for cash to supplement the meat and milk from their 600-strong herd. Then came the winter.

"Every day we saw our animals dying in front of us. I was devastated," said the 32-year-old, her face etched deep by the wind and worry.

The 80 surviving animals graze close to the family's tent, overlooking a disused concrete factory and rubbish tip. Her husband has been lucky, finding a factory job through relatives. But the couple and their four children will barely scrape by on his 150,000 tögrögs (£75) a month. The government recently withdrew substantial child benefits.

"We hoped things might be easier closer to town, but it's not what I expected. It's much worse," said Erdenebileg. "Our future is uncertain, but we know there's no going back."

Most longer-term migrants are stuck in the crowded ger (yurt) settlements around the capital, where 46% live in poverty. Stray goats pick their way through the mud and children kick at corrugated steel fences separating each plot. Sanitation and services are poor. Many lack the documents to claim benefits – though a registration drive should help – and the skills to find work. Some scrabble over rubbish dumps for plastic or glass to sell to recyclers.

On our last drive into Ulaanbaatar from the Tuul, we take a detour through the ger district. It is raining and the roads are flooded; even in July, the cold of the drizzle pierces through one's clothes; in the distance rises the Gadantegchinlen Khiid, its colossal all-seeing Avalokitesvara watching over the city.


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