By Shu Liu, IFRC

Mongolia’s last winter season began early, arriving in November 2016 following a cold surge. According to the Mongolian Information and Research Institute of Meteorology, by Mid-December 2016, some 50 percent of the country was covered in snow and faced a high risk of dzud (local term for severe winter). The institute also warned that temperatures could drop as low as minus 40 and 50 degrees Celsius in Northern and Eastern Mongolia, where heavy snows could cause the death of thousands of livestock.

The current situation is compounded by last year’s severe winter, which affected around 965,000 people, mostly herders, and killed more than 1 million livestock. Many herder families are still struggling to cope with dwindling food supplies and to recover their livelihood. Some chose to leave their homes and moved to the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar after losing all their animals.

By the end of December 2016, there were 21 provinces with 331 soums (Mongolia’s subdivision of inhabited areas with population usually varying from several thousand to up to 20,000 inhabitants) in Mongolia were affected by dzud. The slow onset disaster has been particularly difficult for the elderly, single parents, the disabled, and the poor.

An estimated 157,000 people may be directly affected by the extreme weather conditions this year.  As of early January 2016, 16 provinces in Mongolia were categorized as experiencing dzud, while another 20 provinces were reported as close to having the severe winter conditions.

“Many herder families are heavily indebted after losing their livestock,” said Davaajargal Baasansuren, team leader of the Mongolia Red Cross Disaster Management Programme. “With markets closed or inaccessible in the affected areas, they don’t even have money in their hands. This dzud will deal a double blow to vulnerable communities in Mongolia, as it is combines economic crisis and climactic disaster.”

Worsening road conditions is also a concern, as the severe weather would damage roads and restrict access to public healthcare facilities for many communities.

In response to the situation, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched a Disaster Relief Emergency Fund of 177,000 Swiss Francs (around 175,000 US Dollars) to support the Mongolian Red Cross Society in delivering humanitarian aid to affected communities in four of the worst-affected provinces, including Uvz, Zavkhan, Khuvsgul and Selenge. The US government, through USAID has allocated another 100,000 US Dollars to the Red Cross to provide emergency cash assistance to affected herder families.

The cash grants will be distributed to some 1,700 herder families during a three-month period. The unconditional cash support will enable families to utilize the money based on their immediate needs. As part of the relief operation, first aid kits will be distributed, along with training by Red Cross volunteers on how to treat wounds like frostbites for the affected communities.